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Maximum sentence imposed in murder case; Family member of victim forgives defendant — will never forget

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Manuel Montez’s mother, Regina Bejarano, wipes tears from her eyes as a letter from her granddaughter is read to District Judge James M. Hudson Wednesday afternoon in Chaves County District Court. (Trevier Gonzalez Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

A Roswell man convicted of voluntary manslaughter in December received the maximum sentence of seven years in prison followed by two years of parole.

Defendant Christian Garcia, 28, looks out blankly as his defense attorney, S. Doug Jones Witt, listens intently to court proceedings in Chaves County District Court Wednesday afternoon. (Trevier Gonzalez Photo)

The Wednesday afternoon sentencing for Christian Garcia, now age 28, comes exactly three years after the April 4, 2015 incident in the 4700 block of Cass Street which led to the death of 34-year-old Manuel Montez.

According to previous reports, Garcia was originally charged with second-degree murder after firing two fatal shots at Montez from a .22-gauge rifle through the window of his own home to purportedly protect himself.

Garcia was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter by a jury in Chaves County District Court Dec. 8, 2017.

Before Chaves County District Judge James M. Hudson delivered the sentence Wednesday, he observed statements from the prosecution, defense, as well as Montez’s mother, brother and 5-year-old daughter.

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“I really don’t know too much of what happened to my daddy,” Montez’s daughter wrote in a letter, which was read to the court. “Only that my daddy died — that someone hurt him, and he died, and that he is with God now, and that he is my angel and watching over me from heaven.

“I really miss my daddy. I cry sometimes for him too. I wish he was here to play with me. I play in his room a lot. I like looking at his pictures.

“I wish I could hug and kiss him and tell him I love him — because I am a big girl now, and I can even talk on the phone. I wish he would call me. I miss my daddy, and I wish he would come back to see me. Love always, Azariah — your one and only little girl.”

The reading of the letter brought Montez’s mother, Regina Bejarano, and brother to tears. Garcia’s face showed little to no emotion.

After a moment, Bejarano spoke before the judge with her son at her side.

“I believe in God, and I am told to forgive,” Bejarano said. “And Christian, I do have a part in me that I do forgive you. I — it’s just hard. The way he went — I think I would have been better if we were there with him and if it was an illness. But for them to just call and say he was shot — killed. That’s what really hurt, ‘cause I didn’t get to say goodbye.

“You see how we hurt — I don’t wish that on anybody — I don’t even wish it on the Garcia family. I’m sure they’re hurting, but I think we’re hurting more.”

David Montez, the victim’s brother, spoke last on behalf of the family.

“It’s hard — being the only man to help — (being) around to help my dad,” David Montez said, his voice breaking and difficult to understand. “We just ask that you just take into consideration — it’s hard. It’s not easy for us four. Every day, it’s a struggle

“It’s just — I want it to be over — I just want to be over it.”

Following David Montez’s response, deputy district attorney Michael J. Thomas, alongside deputy DA Matt Stone, recommended seven years of incarceration for Garcia — followed by two years of parole.

Thomas also stated Garcia should receive two years, 329 days for time served.

Roswell defense attorney S. Doug Jones Witt then approached the lectern to argue against the prosecution’s recommendation. Witt was joined with Garcia, who was restricted with hand and leg cuffs.

“(The) bottom line is this is tragic,” Witt said. “The jury, in looking at the evidence, concluded that Christian Garcia was sufficiently provoked in his killing of Manuel Montez — that’s what the jury has said.”

Witt went on to mention Garcia’s lack of criminal history, continuous cooperation with Roswell Police Department investigators, attentive family and young age before thanking Hudson.

After a moment, the judge spoke.

“This case reminds us that life is unmeasurably precious as it is fragile,” Hudson said. “The jury found you guilty of (voluntary) manslaughter — that’s the legal term. But simply calling (it) that — I don’t think sufficiently appreciates what happened that night.

“You said in one of your statements, as I recall, that you didn’t think, that by pulling that trigger, Mr. Montez would die. You didn’t think it would kill him. But after you pulled that trigger, that bullet crashed through the window. It hurtled through the air. Until it ripped a hole in Manuel Montez’s heart.

“But what the evidence showed was that wasn’t where you stopped. You went back to your room to fix the gun, and then came back again — and shot a second time as Mr. Montez lay helplessly on the ground — with his life slowly slipping away.

“Mr. Garcia, you stole Mr. Montez’s life from him. You stole it from his family, and you stole it from his child. The victim’s, his family’s, his child — and even Ms. Bocelli. (A witness during the trial.) They’re left to wonder: ‘Why?’”

Hudson then mentioned the different factors he considers before imposing a sentence.

“I ask myself, ‘What sentence would help you change your life where you wouldn’t break the law again?” Hudson said. “What sentence will be a message to other people in our community that would prevent them from doing what you did? What sentence would be an appropriate punishment?

“The purpose of sentences is not to try and take a price from you that would be equal to what you took. No sentence I could impose could ever restore Manuel’s life.”

Hudson then sentenced Garcia to six years of incarceration, enhanced with an additional year pursuant New Mexico’s firearm statute.

After the sentencing, the Daily Record reached out to the DA’s office and defense counsel.

“We asked for seven and the judge gave them seven,” Stone said. “I felt like that was the appropriate sentencing. Judge Hudson did a really good job of going down through all the reasons why.

“(We’re) disappointed that the jury only found him guilty of voluntary, but you know, if that’s what he’s guilty of, then this is the best outcome.”

Witt, looking at the entire case, said there were many arguable facts on both sides.

“Here you have Mr. Garcia, who is on his own property, having fired a warning shot, looks at his front window and sees a man approaching — shoots him,” Witt explained. “On the other side, for the state, you’ve got the fact they were all using drugs. That Mr. Garcia did not stop with one shot — but shot him again.

“Clearly this is a case that could have gone either way. We’re obviously pleased with the jury’s decision to find him guilty of voluntary manslaughter and not second-degree murder. Are we disappointed with the judge’s decision, given the max on voluntary? Of course we are, but we knew it was coming — we knew it was coming.”

Garcia did not speak throughout the hearing.

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

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