Home News Local News Roswell man found guilty of voluntary manslaughter

Roswell man found guilty of voluntary manslaughter

0
Attorney Doug Jones Witt speaks with his client Christian Garcia after the end of court proceedings in Chaves County District Court Thursday afternoon. Garcia was charged with second-degree murder on April 4, 2015 after he fatally shot Manuel Montez. (Trevier Gonzalez Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

A Roswell man charged with second-degree murder after firing two fatal shots from a .22-gauge rifle through the window of his own home as a means to purportedly protect himself and his property has been found guilty of voluntary manslaughter by a jury in Chaves County District Court.

Defense attorney Doug Jones Witt displays two photographic pieces of evidence to the jury in
the Garcia v. State of New Mexico case in Chaves County District Court Friday. (Trevier Gonzalez Photo)

According to evidence within the court, the shooter chose not to call 911 because he didn’t want to be known as “cop-caller.”

The verdict came after assistant district attorney Jonathan Michael Thomas and deputy district attorney Matthew A. Stone revisited the shooting committed by 27-year-old Christian Garcia in 2015 that led to the death of Manuel Montez.

Garcia is to remain in custody until his Jan. 12 sentencing date.

According to a criminal complaint written by a now former Chaves County Sheriff’s Office detective, the shooting goes back to April 4, 2015, in the 4700 block of Cass Street.

Support Local Journalism
Subscribe to the Roswell Daily Record today.

According to the complaint, the detective responded to the scene in reference to a deceased male that had been shot. The detective wrote that the scene had already been secured by responding Chaves County deputies. The responding detective wrote that deputy Mike Shannon had detained Garcia in his vehicle.

The body of Montez was found in Garcia’s front yard lying next to a pickup truck. Items around both the pickup and Montez were observed, appearing to look like Montez removing items from the truck, according to the detective.

According to Garcia’s interviews with police in 2015, the shooting had been set off with the belief that both Montez and his girlfriend had been trying to steal from him.

Twenty-five at the time, the man with a noted 10th-grade education said he had been smoking methamphetamines with Montez and his girlfriend earlier the same day.

According to police statements from Garcia, Montez had shown an interest in an older, apparently nonfunctioning Monte Carlo that he owned. Based off of testimonies, the vehicle was supposed to be sold for $1,000 up front, not in payments. Doing so would have upset his father, Garcia told authorities.

At some point, Garcia said he saw Montez and his girlfriend “pop” the locks of the Monte Carlo parked in the backyard and attempt to hotwire it. After they couldn’t get the vehicle to move, Montez and his girlfriend knocked on his door, Garcia said.

Despite being in possession of a BB gun and a pellet gun, according to prosecutors, Garcia grabbed a .22 gauge given to him by his father. He fired one warning shot into the air as means to get them off his property.

The two left but later returned.

Garcia told police that after they came back that evening, now banging on his door, he barricaded himself within his home in fear that the two would try to break in and hurt him, according to statements from the Sheriff’s Office.

In response to Montez and his girlfriend breaking into his truck in his front yard, according to Garcia, it was dark when he shot Montez the first time. When Garcia attempted a second shot, his rifle malfunctioned. After he took it into his room and fixed the apparent jam, he turned on his porch light and went for a second shot. After Montez had been shot, his girlfriend’s friend had arrived and then called the police.

A total of five witnesses testified before the jury and District Judge James M. Hudson.

Those who offered their own perspectives or expertise included Montez’s former girlfriend and mother of their child, Jessica Bocelli; the girlfriend’s unrelated “Tio” and friend that made the 911 call, Frank Marquis; the sheriff’s deputy that first responded to the call, Mike Shannon; pathologist expert and medical investigator that participated in Montez’s autopsy, Ross E. Zumwalt; and the detective that interviewed Garcia on three separate occasions and wrote out the narrative, Albert Padilla.

A total of 48 exhibits of evidence were admitted into court. Such pieces included photos of the area along Cass Street and outside Garcia’s home, which is later learned to be the residence of his father, Urbano Garcia, who had been in Georgia at the time of the shooting.

Other exhibits during the court session included the original 911 call, two shell casings, the .22 rifle used by Garcia and three audio interviews between Garcia and detective Padilla.

The defendant’s attorney, Doug Jones Witt, made it a point to the jury that there were two stories in this case. Garcia’s, and Jessica Bocelli’s.

Bocelli

Manuel Montez’s girlfriend at the time of the shooting, Bocelli, was the first witness to take the stand.

According to online court records, Bocelli, 32, pleaded no contest to four charges of forgery, a fourth-degree felony and petty misdemeanor charge of concealing identity back in 2014. Still, the former friend of Garcia provided their recollection of what had happened on April 4, 2015.

Bocelli said she had been with Montez for about two-and-a-half years. She was also the mother of their 1-and-a-half-year-old at the time of the shooting.

Bocelli told the prosecution that Garcia had been friends with Montez since he was 15.

At the time of the incident, she said she was “f—– up” on drugs, tying into the original story that the three had been using methamphetamines before, but also said her and Montez had been saving money for the Monte Carlo, even apparently baking a cake as a means for celebrating the achievement.

Bocelli said before the shooting had actually occurred, she called her friend, “Uncle” Frank Marquis for a ride so she could purchase detergent.

At one point, Bocelli said, I don’t know how it happened” to prosecutors.

As she talked about the shooting, she said Montez had tried to move her away. Tears began to run down her face. She said she didn’t want to be on the stand any longer, but after a moment, continued.

The defense was able to clarify Bocelli had grown up on Georgia Road, near Garcia’s home and that no money had been exchanged between her and Garcia. She was not sure if Montez had handed Garcia money.

Bocelli said, in contrast to police statements, she was not being visibly affectionate toward Montez, even saying that she had been upset with Montez at the time.

Bocelli said she did bang on Garcia’s doors to get his attention but never tried to break into his house. The girlfriend said she couldn’t remember if she heard a warning shot.

A female juror cracked a smile when her felony forgery charge was mentioned.

Marquis

Frank Marquis, the unrelated “uncle” of Bocelli, told the court that he believes he might have been on his way from Ruidoso when Bocelli called her. He noted that she sounded happy, and needed to be picked up on Cass Street.

By the time he arrived, Marquis said he was able to see Bocelli from afar.

“I thought she was laughing, but she was crying,” Marquis said in court.

Marquis said that he ran to Bocelli. He said her niece was crying, saying, “He shot him.”

Bocelli dragged him closer to the scene, to which he saw Montez laying on the ground, Marquis said.

The uncle-figure said he grabbed Bocelli, saying that they needed to call 911.

Bocelli’s frantic screams could be heard in the background during the conversation Marquis had with dispatch.

Marquis added that getting laundry detergent with Bocelli was just a regular activity between the two.

According to the criminal complaint, Marquis advised that he wanted minimal police contact and did not want to be involved because of his criminal past.

Marquis had previously been convicted of a manslaughter charge.

First responders

Chaves County Sheriff’s deputy Mike Shannon, the first responder at the scene, said he had arrived at the area along Cass Street within minutes of receiving the original call from dispatchers.

The deputy said he took cover and waited for other deputies to arrive. After he received backup, Shannon said he made callouts.

The defense was able to confirm that Shannon did not take initial statements with the original calling party.

The deputy said he found Montez facedown, rolled him over and started CPR on him.

The sheriff’s deputy said Garcia had been compliant with him.

Autopsy

Ross E. Zumwalt, a former chief medical investigator with the Office of Medical Investigator, was called as an expert witness, as he had participated in the autopsy of Manuel Montez.

Projectiles were recovered from his wounds. Montez had one in his chest and another in his back. The larger abrasions of the wounds were consistent with the idea that the bullets had pierced through a window.

Zumwalt said while either bullet could have been fatal, the chest shot was of the most seriousness. The OMI would not be able to determine which bullet may have struck Montez first, he added.

According to a toxicology report, a high level of methamphetamines was found in Montez’s blood.

Detective

The last witness to testify in the Garcia v. State of New Mexico case was a former detective with the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office, Albert Padilla. According to his statements made in court, he was the on-call detective at the time and was notified by Sgt. Doug Perham. Another detective, Maria Wilson, took photos of the area at Cass Street.

Padilla said in court that there was no noticeable damage that Garcia’s truck had been damaged.

The detective was able to confirm his original observation that an imprint on the unbarred, east-side window was consistent with pry marks.

Another instance of a similar observation is with a window with metal bars on the south side of Garcia’s home.

“It appeared as if someone had the screen off of the frame from the outside,” Padilla wrote.

Padilla had been previously told by Garcia that his Monte Carlo had been broken into and hotwired. Garcia also made claims that the tires to his vehicle had been slashed. Padilla said upon his inspection, the vehicle did not look operable.

According to his report, the passenger-side tires were flat.

“It appeared as if someone had been working on the car,” Padilla wrote. “(I) observed an ignition switch on the front driver seat. (I) also noticed wires hanging from the dash where there was a stereo.”

According to further statements, Garcia claimed that the ignition switch had been placed onto the front seat by Montez.

The defense brought up a question as to why Padilla chose not to dust for fingerprints, considering there were two windows that were “consistent with pry marks” in both instances. Despite the neighborhood being in a rural, almost dusty area, Padilla said the environment was actually not a good area to pick up prints. The detective added that he can usually see fingerprints with the naked eye if he shines his flashlight close to the area of inspection.

Verdict

After a deliberation period of about three hours, the jury was able to reach a verdict.

Rather than the original second-degree murder charge, members of the jury unanimously agreed on convicting Garcia of voluntary manslaughter.

Garcia’s attorney said from the defendant’s perspective, the State of New Mexico’s plea agreement of a second-degree murder charge just didn’t sit well with him, considering the evidence.

“We just felt, given the facts and circumstances, that Mr. Garcia had been sufficiently provoked, which we felt warranted a change in the charge down to voluntary manslaughter,” Jones Witt said. “I’ve been a DA for a while, and I understand that sometimes you can’t amend the charges. From the DA’s perspective, I think they felt they had a second-degree murder case.”

Just as the attorney referenced that there were two stories to believe in his opening statement, Jones Witt said he believes many of the facts in Garcia’s case were arguable.

“I think the jury’s verdict reflected that,” he said. “I’m not criticizing the DA’s office in any way, shape or form — they do a fine job. Sometimes it’s just the facts and circumstances of the cases that bind their discretion.”

Given the facts of the case, the attorney said he thought the end result of the trial was fair.

“I honestly do,” Jones Witt said. “There was no indication that Christian Garcia was in fear for his personal safety — he wasn’t in fear of that. However, clearly, there was sufficient provocation to arouse the kind of anger or fear that would negate the intent for second-degree murder — which was our contention all along.

“Of course, we were arguing his innocence and hoping for a not-guilty, but, with that said, did the jury get it right? Based on these facts, I think they did. I honestly believe they did. They know what rings true, and what does not.”

Pending the Jan. 12 sentencing, the district attorney’s office declined to comment.

Multimedia-Crime reporter Trevier Gonzalez can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.