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SANTA FE – Standout basketball player Fedonta “JB” White was ready for a fight in the moments before he was fatally shot at a party near Santa Fe, an attorney for the suspect on trial in the athlete’s 2020 death told jurors Wednesday.
Estevan Montoya, 18, is being tried as an adult on a charge of first-degree murder and three other felonies in White’s shooting death on Aug. 1, 2020.
Prosecutors allege that Montoya pulled a pistol from his waistband and shot White, 18, in the chest as startled high school students looked on during a house party in Chupadero, a rural community about 15 miles north of Santa Fe.
Montoya’s attorney, Daniel Marlowe, acknowledged that Montoya fired the fatal shot. But Marlowe told jurors Montoya was fleeing in fear from the athlete and fired over his shoulder in self-defense.
“Estavan (Montoya) is not an athlete,” Marlowe said during his opening statement. “He’s just a kid.”
At 6-feet 5-inches and 150 pounds, White was larger and stronger than Montoya, Marlowe said. White also arranged his clothing in preparation for a fight, he said.
“We know that JB (White) tucked in his chains and pulled up his pants,” he said, referring to the neck chains White wore to the party.
“Estevan is running – JB is chasing him,” Marlowe said. Montoya “shoots over his shoulder.” Montoya continued running from the house because he believed others were chasing him.
The trajectory of the fatal gunshot supports Montoya’s narrative that White was running at the time of the shooting, Marlowe told jurors. The gunshot entered the right side of White’s chest and lodged in his spine.
Marlowe also said Montoya was carrying a pistol because he had seen a friend shot to death weeks earlier and was afraid his own life was in danger.
White was a standout basketball player at Santa Fe High School who had received a scholarship to play for the University of New Mexico Lobos. He was one of UNM’s highest-rated recruits in years and was only days from moving to Albuquerque to begin practicing with the team when he was killed.
Prosecutors told jurors that the events that led to White’s death began with a party intended as a “chill” gathering among friends.
“The plan was to have a fun party, no drama,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Padgett Macias said. “This was not the kind of friend group where guns were welcome or accepted.”
But the party spun “out of control” after word of the event spread on social media and Montoya and several friends showed up uninvited.
“The entire dynamic shifted because of this group,” Padgett Macias said.
Two of Montoya’s friends became embroiled in an argument on the porch, which prompted White to tell Montoya, “shut that goofy kid up.”
The remark angered Montoya, who walked up to White and said, “You don’t want this smoke,” Padgett Macias said.
Montoya was inviting a challenge, she said. Montoya was “inviting JB (White) into his space,” she said. “He was not afraid of JB and you could see it in his eyes.”
Moments before the shooting, the two threw punches but neither struck the other, she said. Montoya then pulled a pistol from his waistband and fired a single round into White’s chest.
After shooting White, Montoya sprinted down the driveway, hopped over a gate, then fired a second round back toward the house. “Luckily, the shot didn’t hit anyone,” she said.
Startled party-goers screamed and ran in response to the shots. Padgett Macias said White told a friend, “I think I’ve been shot. Please don’t let me die.”
The murder weapon disappeared from the scene with Montoya and has not been recovered, she said.
Montoya also faces felony charges of tampering with evidence, unlawful possession of a handgun by a person under 19, and negligent use of a weapon near a dwelling.
First Judicial District Judge T. Glenn Ellington ruled in 2020 that Montoya would be tried as an adult, even though he was 16 at the time of the killing.