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State v. Montoya

Court of Appeals of Utah

July 7, 2017

State of Utah, Appellee,
Joshua James Montoya, Appellant.

         Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Deno G. Himonas No. 101901835

          Joel J. Kittrell and Kristina H. Ruedas, Attorneys for Appellant.

          Sean D. Reyes and Kris C. Leonard, Attorneys for Appellee.

          Judge Stephen L. Roth authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K. Orme and David N. Mortensen concurred.


          ROTH, Judge.

         ¶1 Joshua James Montoya shot and killed Victim during a confrontation between the two in front of Montoya's residence where Victim and Victim's girlfriend (Girlfriend) had gone to drop off the three children she shared with Montoya for a weekend visit. Montoya appeals his jury conviction for murder, a first degree felony, and obstruction of justice, a second degree felony. We affirm.


         ¶2 Montoya associated with gangs and gang members. Victim also associated with gangs and was by reputation a violent man known to have committed armed robberies. Substantial evidence of Victim's violent focus on Montoya was elicited at trial.

         ¶3 In September 2009, about six months before the March 2010 killing, Montoya had gone to Girlfriend's house at her invitation to discuss an issue regarding a credit card. Victim's relationship with Girlfriend had already begun, and he was at her house when Montoya arrived. While Montoya and Girlfriend were talking, Victim "punched [Montoya] in the back of the head" and fisticuffs ensued. Montoya then proceeded to leave the house, but Victim would not let it go. With a gun in his hand, he followed Montoya out of the house, lifted the gun, and told Montoya to "get the fuck out of there" or he would shoot him. Several months after this incident-a few weeks before Victim's death-Montoya heard from multiple sources that Victim had been telling people that he planned on shooting Montoya.

         ¶4 On the day of the killing, Girlfriend drove with Victim to drop her children off at Montoya's house for a weekend visit. Once they arrived, Montoya saw that Victim was in the car with Girlfriend and the children, and he "instantly got scared" because Victim "had been making threats that he was going to shoot [Montoya]." Montoya was further "scared" because Victim "was very angry and upset." Montoya and Victim began arguing at the curbside in front of Montoya's house, with Victim remaining in the vehicle and Montoya standing by the passenger's door-on the same side of the vehicle as Victim. The altercation escalated and culminated in Montoya shooting and killing Victim.

         ¶5 The State charged Montoya with murder and obstruction of justice. Just who had brought the gun to the encounter was a major source of contention at trial, with Montoya claiming that Victim had produced the gun and threatened him with it during the altercation and the State alleging that Montoya himself had brought the gun with him from the house.

         ¶6 Before trial, Montoya sought to admit evidence of another violent episode involving Victim, which had occurred about six months before his death (the apartment incident). Specifically, Montoya wanted to introduce evidence about an incident involving his cousin (Cousin), with whom Victim had been romantically involved. After Victim's relationship with Cousin ended, Victim went to her apartment in September 2009 and threatened her, purportedly over an ongoing dispute between Cousin and Girlfriend. Apparently to emphasize his concerns, Victim had fired a gun several times inside the apartment.

         ¶7 Montoya argued that this evidence was admissible pursuant to Utah Rule of Evidence 404(b) and that it would show (1) that Victim "prepared and planned to bring a handgun to a confrontation with [Montoya]" and (2) that Montoya reasonably believed that use of force was necessary to defend himself against Victim. The trial court denied the motion on the grounds that the evidence was not offered for a non-character purpose, the evidence was not relevant to show that the gun Victim possessed during the apartment incident was the same gun that killed him, and the potential for unfair prejudice substantially outweighed any probative value.

         ¶8 At trial, the parties disputed ownership of the gun that fired the fatal bullet, and Montoya presented his theory of self defense. He asserted that during the altercation, Victim, still seated in the vehicle, pulled out a gun and pointed it at Montoya. At this moment, according to Montoya, he tried to push the gun away, gained control of it in a struggle and then stumbled, hit the car door with his arm, and accidentally fired the gun, striking and killing Victim. The State, on the other hand, asserted that in the course of the altercation, Montoya pulled out a gun from his pocket and deliberately shot Victim. Montoya's DNA was found on the gun's grip, hammer, trigger, and cylinder. Victim's DNA was not found anywhere on the gun nor on any ...

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