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SANTA FE – Estevan Montoya told jurors Monday that he feared severe injury in the moments before he fatally shot standout basketball player Fedonta “JB” White at a party in 2020.
Jurors began deliberating Monday in Montoya’s trial on charges of first-degree murder and three other felonies. Montoya, 18, was the final witness in the two-week trial.
White, 18, began throwing punches as he chased Montoya outside a house party in Chupadero, a rural community about 15 miles north of Santa Fe, Montoya told jurors.
“He was already lunging off the porch throwing a power punch,” Montoya said. He realized the punch could have broken his jaw if it had landed, he said.
White “started running after me,” Montoya said. He glanced backward and saw White swinging at him. “The only option I had was the gun.”
Montoya drew a .380-caliber pistol from his pants pocket and fired over his shoulder at White, he testified. “I shot at him to stop him.”
Montoya also told jurors he didn’t realize he had fatally shot White until after he was arrested the next morning.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Blake Nichols told jurors to reject the defense argument that Montoya was attempting to defend himself from a larger, aggressive athlete.
“They have chosen to make this case about JB White,” Nichols said Monday in closing arguments. “They have tried to convince you that JB was the aggressor.”
White was braced for a fist fight and had no idea that Montoya was armed with a pistol, Nichols told jurors.
“He thought he was signing up for a fist fight,” Nichols said of White. “You don’t expect somebody to pull a .380 and shoot you in the chest.”
Prosecutors said Montoya was a member of a local gang called the “South Side Goons” who created conflict from the moment they arrived uninvited at the party, initially intended as a small gathering of friends.
One of Montoya’s friends became emotionally distraught, prompting White to tell Montoya, “shut this goofy kid up,” Nichols said.
In response, Montoya told White, “You don’t want none of this smoke,” which led to a confrontation between the two, Nichols said.
“The real reason that JB White is dead is because this man wanted to show how big and bad he is,” Nichols said, pointing at Montoya.
White was a nationally ranked basketball player at Santa Fe High School who had received a scholarship to play for the University of New Mexico Lobos. He was only days from moving to Albuquerque to begin practicing with the team at the time of his death on Aug. 1, 2020.
“All JB White wanted to do was play basketball,” Nichols told jurors. Nichols displayed a photo of White on the basketball court and another of a tattoo on White’s arm that said “Basketball is life.”
In contrast, he said, Montoya was “obsessed with guns.” He showed jurors photos from Montoya’s Facebook page posing with guns, including a .380-caliber pistol with a laser scope similar to the one used to kill White.
The weapon used in White’s killing has not been recovered.
Montoya is being tried as an adult even though he was 16 at the time of the killing. He also faces charges of tampering with evidence, unlawful possession of a handgun by a person under 19, and negligent use of a weapon near a dwelling.
Daniel Marlowe, Montoya’s attorney, told jurors the trajectory of the bullet in White’s body suggests he was bent over and running at the time he was shot.
An expert witness for the defense testified last week that the bullet entered White’s shoulder and lodged in the middle of his spine, suggesting White was bent forward in a running position when he was shot.
“It shows that JB was chasing Estevan, and Estevan reacted,” Marlowe told jurors in closing arguments. Meanwhile, Montoya “was running away” out of fear, he said.
Gunpowder residue on White’s clothing showed he was shot from a distance of less than 3 feet, Marlowe said, suggesting that White was gaining on Montoya.
“JB was right on top of Estevan Montoya,” he said. “JB almost got him.”