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Prosecutors: Teen accused in death of hoops star may face adult charges

Santa Fe High’s Fedonta “J.B.” White walks by coach Zack Cole during a game at the Al Armendariz Tournament at Capital High School in December last year. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Prosecutors will seek adult charges against Estevan Mateo Montoya, the 16-year-old boy accused of shooting and killing an 18-year-old star basketball player in the early hours of Aug. 1.

Fedonta “J.B.” White’s death has shaken Santa Fe and much of New Mexico. He was a standout basketball player at Santa Fe High School and had recently committed to playing at the University of New Mexico.

During a detention hearing Monday afternoon, Assistant District Attorney Heather Smallwood told the court the state would seek to try Montoya as an adult, given the severity of the crime. The formal request will be made at a preliminary hearing scheduled for Aug. 13 before 1st Judicial District Court Judge T. Glenn Ellington.

Assistant District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said prosecutors are awaiting potential new evidence that could see Montoya charged with first-degree murder.

“Because it could potentially be a first-degree homicide, then we would want him sanctioned or punished as an adult,” she said. “Otherwise … we would just be able to move forward with a second-degree murder charge, and that would hold him only until he’s 21.”

Authorities plan to collect cellphone records and data from social media accounts, which could help determine who was in the vicinity of the crime scene, she said.

The late teen hoops star Fedonta “J.B.” White is seen here during a game against Pecos High School in December last year. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

During Monday’s hearing, prosecutors said Montoya had been referred to juvenile court on two past occasions: one for larceny as a 10-year-old and one for distributing a controlled substance earlier this year. Montoya had been arrested with 57 grams of cannabis in his possession, according to his attorney.

Ellington ordered Montoya held without bond at the San Juan County Juvenile Detention Facility in Farmington, pending a future hearing.

Court records show Montoya currently faces four charges: an open count of murder, assault with a deadly weapon, negligent use of a weapon and unlawful possession of a handgun.

The announcement of the charges comes a couple of days after police say White and Montoya attended a party, which drew a large crowd of teenagers. The party was held at a house outside of Santa Fe – at 33 Camino Chupadero – that was undergoing renovations. It’s unclear if they were living in the house at the time of the party.

At some point, Montoya and White had “a physical confrontation,” after which Montoya shot White, according to a statement by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office. White later died of his wounds at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center.

Santa Fe Police officers eventually detained Montoya at his home near Siringo Road around 7 a.m., SFSO spokesperson Juan Rios told the Journal. Others who attended the party were also brought in for questioning.

Initially, SFSO released a statement at 9:45 a.m. Saturday that no arrests had been made and Rios told the Journal that Montoya was not officially a suspect until after the statement had come out.

However, SFPD Chief Andrew Padilla said in a news conference that Montoya was a suspect in the killing at the time police detained him.

SFSO also stated Saturday evening that Montoya was being held at the Santa Fe County Juvenile Detention Facility, which the county had officially closed in late March. Dan Marlowe, Montoya’s attorney, told the Journal his client is being held at the juvenile detention facility in San Juan County.

Marlowe said Montoya has received many death threats on social media since police announced the arrest, so much so that Montoya’s Facebook account has been deactivated.

Santa Fe High’s J.B. White, center, puts up a shot over Highland’s Jose Murillo, left, and Josh Barraza, right, during a match-up at Rio Rancho High School in December last year. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

White’s death is the latest in a disturbing trend of teenage homicides in the Santa Fe area – there have been four in nearly two months.

“It is enormously troubling and upsetting to everybody in our community,” Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber said.

City Councilor Roman Abeyta, who works for the local Boys and Girls club, said in a virtual press conference Monday that the lack of resources available to young people during the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the rise in violent crime. He said clubs from around the nation are reporting similar trends.

Abeyta said the city plans to fast-track the construction of a teen center on Santa Fe’s Southside, which he said will help curb the rise in violent crime.

“When kids and teens feel like they have a safe place to go … that will make a difference,” he said.

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