Santa Fe, NM

Opinion: Attorneys Are Appealing the Conviction of 'JB' White

Daniella Cressman

"Attorneys for a Santa Fe teen sentenced to life in prison for the 2020 fatal shooting of high school basketball standout Fedonta '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 error throughout the trial' as the basis for the appeal." —Phaedra Haywood

The filing indicates that District Judge T. Glenn Ellington made a mistake when he failed to grant Montoya's request for a change of venue so that the trial could take place in an area where JB White was less well-known.

"The filing says state District Judge T. Glenn Ellington erred when he failed to grant Montoya’s request for a change of venue, which had sought to move the trial to a place where White was less well known." —Phaedra Haywood

White was a popular basketball star in the state of New Mexico.

"White, who played three years at Santa Fe High School, was one of the city’s best-known athletes in recent history and only a few weeks from attending the University of New Mexico on a basketball scholarship. His death stunned sports fans throughout the state who had yearned for a home-grown star to lead the Lobos’ men’s program." —Phaedra Haywood

The judge also denied Montoya a fair trial by refusing to even give jurors the option to find him guilty of killing White in self-defense.

"The judge further denied Montoya a fair trial by refusing to give jurors the option of finding the defendant had killed White in self-defense — or the option of finding him guilty of a lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter, the appeal says. In so doing, the appeal says, the judge was 'usurping the fact finders view of the evidence and supplanting his own interpretation of those facts when there was abundant evidence of both physical and scientific evidence that sufficient provocation existed and self-defense was present and presented to the jury.' Ellington determined there wasn’t enough evidence of self-defense presented at the trial to give the jury the option of finding Montoya had committed justifiable homicide." —Phaedra Haywood

The judge told the jurors they only had two options: finding Montoya guilty or not guilty of first-degree murder.

"The judge told jurors they had the option of finding Montoya guilty or not guilty of first-degree murder — based either on the theory of premeditated murder or depraved-mind murder — or a lesser offense of second-degree murder." —Phaedra Haywood

The jury unanimously voted to convict Montoya of first-degree murder even though the murder weapon was never found.

"The jury agreed unanimously to convict Montoya of first-degree murder. Jurors also convicted Montoya of tampering with evidence, unlawful carrying of a handgun and negligent use of a deadly weapon, based on allegations he disposed of the murder weapon, which was never found." —Phaedra Haywood

Montoya shot White at a house party on August 1, 2020. At the time, Montoya was 16 and white was 18. Multiple witnesses have testified that the two were involved in a fight shortly before White was killed.

"Montoya, then 16, shot White, then 18, at a house party in Chupadero on Aug. 1, 2020. Multiple witnesses testified at Montoya’s trial in May the two boys exchanged words in a confrontation immediately before Montoya shot White, and White had been seen chasing Montoya before Montoya fired his gun." —Phaedra Haywood

According to the appeal, the court denied the self-defense instruction.

The appeal reads, in part:

“In spite of the fact that the defendant was running away from the victim and that the defendant feared death or great bodily harm … the Court denied the self-defense instruction...The Court stated there was no reasonable basis for the defendant to believe he was in danger of great bodily harm...[Montoya] testified he was familiar with the victim’s athletic ability and feared that he would have been seriously injured if he was caught by the victim.” —Phaedra Haywood

According to the appeal, state prosecutors had presented jurors with two theories of first-degree murder.

"State prosecutors had presented jurors with two theories of first-degree murder — willful and intentional and depraved mind — according to the appeal. Depraved mind refers to a charge that accuses a defendant of acting with utter disregard for human life." —Phaedra Haywood

In the appeal, attorneys Dan Marlow and Ben Ortega argue that the court found both theories probable without any evidence to support the willful and intentional one and no evidence whatsoever that Montoya fired a shot at or into the crowd.

“'They are conflicting theories but the court below found probable cause on both theories without any evidence regarding willful and intentional and no evidence that [Montoya] fired a shot at or into the crowd,' attorneys Dan Marlowe and Ben Ortega argue in the appeal. Marlowe could not be reached for comment." —Phaedra Haywood

During the trial, there was conflicting testimony regarding the physical positions of each teen at the time of the shooting.

"There was conflicting testimony during the trial over the physical positioning of the teens at the time Montoya fired the fatal shot. Several witnesses said Montoya stopped running, turned, aimed and shot White point-blank. But Montoya testified 'the victim swung on 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 shot around his arm at the person chasing him.'" —Phaedra Haywood

The Judge and the jury found that the killing was intentional even though the path of the bullet proved that there could not possibly have been a directly straight shot to the victim.

"'The Judge and the jury found the killing was intentional even though the path of the bullet proved that there could not have been a direct straight shot to the victim,' the appeal says." —Phaedra Haywood

According to the appeal, Ellington was extremely biased.

"According to the appeal, Ellington limited expert testimony from the defense on the angle of the entry wound and failed to correct a prosecutor who told the jury in closing arguments Montoya was no longer 'presumed innocent.'" —Phaedra Haywood

The court also committed an error by not allowing the defense to present evidence surrounding White's aggressive on-court behavior and recent pistol purchase.

"'The court also erred by not allowing the defense to present evidence regarding White’s 'on court’ aggression,' according to the document, and by not allowing the defense to introduce a receipt taken from White’s wallet for a .22-caliber pistol." —Phaedra Haywood

While Montoya was relatively emotionless during the trial, he did apologize to White's family and others before he was sentenced.

“I wish the situation could have been different...but no matter what I say, no matter what I do, I realize I cannot change what happened that night.” — Estevan Montoya

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