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Steven Candelaria fired in self-defense, fatally shooting an armed man who confronted him outside an Albuquerque apartment in 2020, a defense attorney told jurors Tuesday on the first day of Candelaria’s murder trial.
But prosecutors allege Candelaria and his brother arrived at Luciano Montoya’s apartment seeking revenge and pistol whipped a woman before firing more than a dozen gunshots at Montoya’s home, fatally injuring Montoya.
Candelaria, 31, is charged in 2nd Judicial District Court with first-degree murder and other crimes in the Nov. 17, 2020, shooting death of 39-year-old Montoya.
Candelaria also is charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for striking his girlfriend, Raquel Martinez-Chavez, in the head with a pistol just moments before Montoya’s death.
Candelaria’s attorney, Stephen Lane, told jurors that Montoya fired the first shots. Candelaria and his brother, Brandon Candelaria, fired in self-defense, he said.
“Luciano Montoya came charging out of his apartment with a gun.” Lane said in opening statements. “He shot at Steven Candelaria. Steven and Brandon returned fire and Luciano was struck and killed.”
Brandon Candelaria, 27, also faces first-degree murder and other charges in Montoya’s death. His trial has not been scheduled.
Unreliable witnesses, including Martinez-Chavez, told investigators that Montoya was unarmed at the time of the fatal confrontation, Lane said. Montoya’s father removed and hid his son’s pistol before police arrived at the scene, he said.
The witnesses later acknowledged that Montoya was armed at the time of the confrontation, Lane said. But no ballistics tests were performed on Montoya’s weapon to determine whether it had been fired, he said.
After he was shot in the torso, Montoya fled inside his apartment in the 1100 block of Louisiana SE, just north of Gibson. Officers found him dead in the kitchen.
Martinez-Chavez, who is the mother of Candelaria’s son, testified Tuesday that Candelaria beat her the day before Montoya was killed. After the beating, Martinez-Chavez showed the injuries to Montoya.
Martinez-Chavez also has two children with Montoya, she testified. She wept Tuesday as she described giving Montoya CPR in the moments before he died.
Assistant District Attorney Natalie Lyon told jurors that the beating set in motion a series of events that led to Montoya’s killing. Martinez-Chavez and Montoya “started to plan to have somebody go beat Steven (Candelaria) for what he did to Raquel,” Lyon said.
Armed men arrived at Candelaria’s apartment and pistol whipped him, Lyon said. In response, Candelaria and his brother drove to Montoya’s apartment the following day, leading to the gunfire that killed Montoya, she said. Officers found 18 shell casings outside Montoya’s apartment.
The Candelaria brothers “lit this apartment up,” Lyon told jurors.