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SANTA FE – A jury found Estevan Montoya guilty of first-degree murder and other crimes Tuesday in the 2020 shooting death of basketball standout Fedonta “JB” White.
Montoya, 18, was tried as an adult even though he was 16 at the time of the fatal shooting at a house party in Chupadero, a rural community about 15 miles north of Santa Fe.
Jurors apparently rejected Montoya’s self-defense narrative in favor of the prosecution’s argument that he “lured” White into a fistfight before pulling a handgun and firing a single shot into White’s chest.
Montoya, who wore a mask in court, showed little emotion as District Judge T. Glenn Ellington read the verdicts.
A group of 20 or more of White’s friends and family members let out gasps and several wept as the verdicts were read.
“I’m just very happy that the truth came out,” said Jude Voss, White’s grandmother, who said she considers herself White’s mother. “I knew that my son wasn’t an aggressive, mean person.”
Voss was a conspicuous presence at White’s basketball games and helped him manage his career and college offers.
“I had to live the last year and a half just worried that we weren’t going to get justice,” Voss said after the verdict.
Chantel Esquibel, White’s older sister, said the family is grateful for the guilty verdicts.
“I know we’re all very relieved and very happy that Estevan is put away,” she said. “Hopefully this will make him become a better person.”
The conviction for first-degree murder, willful and deliberate, requires Montoya to spend 30 years in prison before he is eligible for parole.
Jurors also convicted Montoya on one count each of tampering with evidence, unlawful possession of a handgun by a person under 19, and negligent use of a deadly weapon near a dwelling. The judge scheduled his sentencing hearing for June 22.
“Hopefully Estevan can and will change,” said White’s aunt, Kaila Boston. “And hopefully this will be a lesson to other kids not to be so quick to pull guns and to kind of value life a little bit more.”
Prosecutors said in closing arguments Monday that Montoya targeted White in part out of jealousy.
White was a “tall, athletic, handsome kid,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Blake Nichols told jurors. “Just graduated early, getting ready to go to college, play basketball. He’s successful, friends with everybody at the party. He’s everything the defendant is not.”
White was a nationally ranked basketball player at Santa Fe High School who graduated early to join the University of New Mexico Lobos. A 6-foot, 5-inch wing, White had received offers from several Division 1 programs.
He was only days from moving to Albuquerque to practice with the team when he was killed on Aug. 1, 2020.
Montoya’s defense attorney, Daniel Marlowe, portrayed White as the aggressor, who ran after the smaller Montoya throwing punches.
“How do you get to be a Division 1 basketball player if you are not a little bit aggressive?” Marlowe told jurors in closing arguments.
Prosecutors argued that the party had been planned as a “chill” event among a small group of friends, but took a dark turn when Montoya arrived with other members of a gang called the “South Side Goons.”
One of Montoya’s friends had an emotional outburst that led to a tense scene on the front porch of the house.
The confrontation escalated after White told Montoya, “shut that goofy kid up,” according to testimony. At some point, Montoya replied, “You don’t want none of this smoke.”
Testifying in his own defense on Monday, Montoya told jurors that he had taken his friend outside to calm him down but others gathered on the porch “egging it on.”
Montoya’s attorney told jurors that White readied himself for a fight by arranging his clothing and tucking in his chains.
Montoya testified that White leapt off the porch swinging and chased him across the yard, prompting Montoya to draw a .380-caliber pistol from his pocket and fire over his shoulder at White.
Montoya testified that he feared severe injury if White struck him.
He ran from the scene and was arrested the following morning. The pistol was not recovered.
Prosecutors told jurors that Montoya invited White to a fistfight before drawing his pistol.
White “thought he was signing up for a fistfight,” Nichols said in closing arguments. “When you sign up for a fistfight, you expect a damn fistfight.”
Instead, Montoya pulled a pistol and fatally shot White.
Nichols replayed for jurors a brief video made by one of the partygoers that captured the moment of the shooting. The video showed that Montoya repeatedly pointed the laser-sighted pistol at partygoers and fired a second shot at the house after White was fatally shot.
Those actions could have killed other innocent bystanders at the party, Nichols said.
Montoya’s behavior showed “outrageously reckless conduct, indicated a depraved mind and lack of concern for other people’s lives” – all key elements for a first-degree murder conviction, Nichols told jurors.