August 23 – Lawyers for a Santa Fe teenager sentenced to life in prison for the 2020 fatal shooting of high school basketball standout Fedenta “JB” White are appealing his conviction.
A statement filed Monday with the state Supreme Court on behalf of Estevan Montoya, convicted of first-degree murder in White’s death in May, cites “irregularities … and cumulative errors throughout the trial” as the basis for the appeal. .
The document says State District Judge T. Glenn Ellington erred in failing to comply with Montoya’s request for a change of venue, which was intended to move the trial to a place where White was less well-known.
White, who played three years at Santa Fe High School, was one of the city’s best-known athletes in recent history and just weeks after attending the University of New Mexico on a basketball scholarship. His death stunned sports fans across the state who had been yearning for a local star to lead the Lobos men’s show.
The judge further denied Montoya a fair trial, refusing to give jurors the option of finding that the defendant killed White in self-defense — or the option of finding him guilty of a lesser crime of manslaughter, the appeal says.
In doing so, the appeal says, the judge was “usurping the investigators’ view of facts on the evidence and supplanting his own interpretation of those facts when there was abundant evidence of physical and scientific evidence that sufficient provocation and self-defense was present and presented to the jury.”
Ellington determined that there was not enough evidence of self-defense presented at the trial to give the jury the option of finding that Montoya had committed justifiable manslaughter.
The judge told jurors they had the option of finding Montoya guilty or not guilty of first-degree murder — based on the theory of premeditated murder or murder of a depraved mind — or the lesser felony of second-degree murder.
The jury unanimously agreed to convict Montoya of first-degree murder. Jurors also convicted Montoya of tampering with evidence, illegally carrying a firearm and negligent use of a deadly weapon, based on allegations that he discarded the murder weapon, which was never found.
Montoya, then 16, shot White, then 18, at a party in Chupadero on August 1, 2020. Several witnesses testified at Montoya’s trial in May, the two boys exchanged words in a confrontation immediately before Montoya shoot White, and White had been seen chasing Montoya before Montoya fired his gun.
“Despite the fact that the defendant fled the victim and the defendant feared death or great bodily harm … the Court denied the self-defense instruction,” according to the appeal.
“The Court held that there was no reasonable basis for the defendant to believe that he was in danger of great bodily harm,” the appeal reads. “[Montoya] testified that he was familiar with the victim’s athletic ability and feared that he would have been seriously injured if caught by the victim.”
State prosecutors presented jurors with two theories of first-degree murder — intentional and depraved mind — according to the appeal.
Depraved mind refers to an accusation that accuses a defendant of acting with complete disregard for human life.
“These are conflicting theories, but the court below found probable cause in both theories without any evidence about intentional and intentional and no evidence that [Montoya] fired into the crowd,” argue attorneys Dan Marlowe and Ben Ortega on appeal.
Marlowe could not be found for comment.
There were conflicting testimonies during the trial about the teenagers’ physical positioning at the time Montoya fired the fatal shot. Several witnesses said that Montoya stopped running, turned, took aim and shot White at point-blank range.
But Montoya testified that “the victim shot him and that he drew his gun and fired in an effort to stop the attack,” the appeal says. “He drew and fired without actually seeing the victim, but he shot around the arm at the person chasing him.”
“The judge and jury found the murder to be intentional, although the bullet’s path proved that there could not have been a direct shot at the victim,” the appeal reads.
According to the appeal, Ellington limited defense expert testimony on the angle of the entry wound and failed to correct a prosecutor who told the jury in closing arguments that Montoya was no longer “presumably innocent.”
The court also erred in not allowing the defense to present evidence of White’s “in court” assault, according to the document, and in not allowing the defense to present a receipt taken from White’s wallet for a .22-caliber pistol.
Before being sentenced, Montoya, who was unemotional during the trial, apologized to White’s family. He also apologized to others, including the dozens of youths who attended the Chupadero party where White was shot.
“I wish the situation could have been different,” Montoya said, reading a prepared statement, “but no matter what I say, no matter what I do, I realize I can’t change what happened that night.”