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SANTA FE – Estevan Montoya was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of basketball standout Fedonta “JB” White at a house party in the summer of 2020.
Judge T. Glenn Ellington handed down the sentence after an emotional hearing in 1st Judicial District Court on Wednesday.
Family and supporters of both Montoya and White packed the Santa Fe courtroom for the hearing.
Eight members of White’s family read letters to the court or had prosecuting attorneys read their letters. There were sobs throughout the courtroom as White’s family described the toll the 18-year-old’s death has had on the tight-knit family and, during a series of slide shows showing White growing up.
Bianca Vega, White’s mother, talked about the trip to the hospital the night of the shooting. She and her mother were originally worried about White’s future basketball career. She said she collapsed on the floor of the hospital hallway when she learned of her son’s death.
“I am broken and confused,” she wrote in a letter that was read in court.
Jude Voss, White’s grandmother, attempted to read a letter in court, but was overcome with emotion and started sobbing, so a prosecutor read it on her behalf. In the letter, Voss said she thinks often about her grandson’s final moments. Was he scared? Was he in pain? Was he thinking about his family?
“These are the thoughts that will haunt me for the rest of my life,” she said in the letter.
Montoya, 18, also addressed the court. He apologized to White’s friends and family, as well as his.
“Whether you believe me or not, my intentions were never to hurt or kill anyone,” he said.
A jury found Montoya guilty May 17 in the shooting death that took place in Chupadero, a rural community about 15 miles north of Santa Fe. Montoya was convicted of first-degree murder, willful and deliberate. He was 16 at the time of the shooting.
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.
White was shot during a party that prosecutors said began as a “chill” event among friends. Word of the party spread on social media, attracting a large number of young people, including Montoya and several friends.
Prosecutors argued that Montoya “lured” White into a fistfight in the moments before he pulled a .380-caliber pistol and fired a single shot into White’s chest.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Blake Nichols also told jurors in closing arguments that White “thought he was signing up for a fistfight” and didn’t know Montoya was armed.
Nichols also argued that Montoya was at least partly motivated by jealousy for the “tall, athletic, handsome” White.
White was “everything the defendant is not,” Nichols told jurors.
White was a nationally ranked basketball player at Santa Fe High School who had turned down offers from other Division I programs to play for the University of New Mexico Lobos.
A 6-foot 5-inch wing, White was just days from moving to Albuquerque to practice with the Lobos when he was killed on Aug. 1, 2020.
Zack Cole, White’s basketball coach and a relative through marriage, said he spoke with multiple Division I basketball coaches during White’s recruitment. They told Cole that he was coaching a future professional basketball player.
“That’s what one looks like,” Cole recalled the coaches saying. “He’s a star.”
Montoya’s attorney Daniel Marlowe had argued that Montoya shot at the larger White in self-defense.
Marlowe told jurors that White had been the aggressor, who chased and threw punches at Montoya in the moments before the shooting. Montoya pulled a pistol and fired over his shoulder as White pursued him, Marlowe said.
Montoya ran from the scene and was arrested the following morning. The pistol was not recovered.
Marlowe asked Ellington to give his client the possibility of parole in 15 or 20 years. Nichols asked that Ellington stack the maximum penalty for the lesser charges, about 4½ years, on top of the life sentence.
Ellington allowed the penalty for the lesser charges to be served concurrent to the life sentence. Montoya will be eligible for parole after serving 30 years, including the one year and 10 months he has already served.
Before announcing the sentence, Ellington said it was a high-profile case because of White’s talents and his celebrity status in the community. About half of the jury pool was excluded after a questionnaire sent to potential jurors showed they were familiar with the case.
The judge said he’s noticed a rise in young people being suspects and victims in gun crimes.
“We don’t live in a time where there are fistfights and things are resolved that way,” he said. “We live in a time where somebody pulls out a gun.”