Prosecutors played two videos in court Thursday that graphically showed the New Year’s Eve barroom shootout in Old Sacramento that left two men dead.
The videos depict the series of events that led to the deaths of Daniel Ferrier and Gilbert Cordova in the Sports Corner Café around 9:44 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2012 when thousands of people crowded the city’s waterfront to watch fireworks.
Taken from the bar’s security cameras, the videos were shown in a preliminary hearing for three people who are facing trial in the case, including two who are accused of murder.
Deputy District Attorney Anthony Ortiz played the videos over the objection of defense attorneys who thought they would prejudice future jurors against their clients.
Only one witness testified Thursday in the hearing, scheduled to continue Jan. 6, when Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ernest W. Sawtelle will decide whether there is enough evidence to hold the three defendants for trial.
Shot from two angles, the videos show Cordova accidentally bumping into a woman identified as 37-year-old Amber Scholz. Her drink is spilled, and Scholz and Cordova argue before she walks away and shakes one of her arms dry. Her husband, Charles Wesley Fowler-Scholz, 35, stumbles into the bar, walks up to his wife and hugs her from behind. She then buys him a beer and, according to the prosecution, tells him about the spill.
Standing next to the Scholzes in the video was Carlito Montoya, 23. The three of them and a fourth member of their group walk single file around the crowded bar to confront Cordova. After an exchange of words, Fowler-Scholz smashes Cordova in the head with a beer bottle and wrestles him to the floor.
When the fight started, Ferrier, a 36-year-old doorman at the bar and an Iraq War veteran, ran to break it up. Just a few moments earlier, the video showed Ferrier had been working the front door and going outside and sharing a few laughs on the boardwalk with Fowler-Scholz, who was smoking a cigarette before he went inside.
In the video, Montoya, an alleged gang member, is shown pulling out a gun, holding it over the crowd and firing it at Ferrier, who was wearing a black shirt that clearly read “Security,” as he tried to make his way toward the fight. When bar patrons scramble away, the video shows Ferrier lying lifeless on the floor.
Fowler-Scholz continued to wrestle with Cordova on the ground. The video shows Montoya pulling his friend off the 35-year-old father of three. When Montoya succeeds in creating space between the two of them, he aims his gun at Cordova and fires two or three more shots that killed him.
Stephen Walton, the bar’s security supervisor, then comes down a stairway in the video. Armed with a handgun of his own, Walton fires at Montoya, who shoots back and seriously wounds Walton with two shots to the abdomen, but does not kill him. Another gunshot strikes Cordova’s wife in the foot. Later, Montoya is hospitalized with gunshot injuries of his own.
In the trial, Montoya and Fowler-Scholz are facing two murder counts, as well as additional charges of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. Amber Scholz is facing a single count of assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly instigating the fight between her husband and Cordova.
The two men have been charged with special-circumstance allegations of gang murder and multiple murders.
Ortiz, the deputy DA, told the court Thursday that his office will not be seeking the death penalty against the two.
The prosecutor played the videos during the testimony of Sacramento police Detective Larry Trimpey, who narrated the visuals for the judge.
Montoya’s attorney, Karol Martin Repkow, first tried to have the media banned from the hearing. Then she objected to the playing of the video on grounds that simply reporting on it would create the kind of publicity that would bias the potential jury pool. She told Sawtelle she is considering filing a change of venue motion in the case.
The judge overruled her objection, and he also denied a motion by Assistant Public Defender Amy Rogers, who is representing Amber Scholz, to have the court bar the publication of a sketch artist’s rendition of the day’s proceedings that included a scene from the video. Repkow and Fowler-Scholz’s attorney, Dan Nicholson, joined in the request, which Sawtelle denied.
In her cross-examination of Trimpey, Repkow suggested in her questioning that Montoya’s defense will be that he had “consumed an enormous amount of alcohol on New Year’s Eve.” She said in her questioning that Montoya also asked to write an apology letter to the victims’ families.
“I believe that Mr. Montoya acted in an alcoholic blackout,” Repkow said later in an email to The Sacramento Bee. “He doesn't remember most of what happened that night. He did not set out to hurt anybody, and to this day he is shocked and remorseful about what happened.”
In her cross-examination, Rogers said it appeared that Cordova made an approach toward her client that inflamed the argument over the spilled drink. Nicholson also suggested in his questioning that Cordova appeared to be acting aggressively toward Fowler-Scholz when the husband came toward him.
Trimpey disagreed with Nicholson’s characterization, testifying that Cordova “looks like a person who is trapped and is trying to defend himself.”
Ortiz presented evidence that Montoya’s cellphone contained photographs of himself brandishing a revolver. Trimpey also confirmed that investigators found items such as pillows, bandanas and notebooks linked to Montoya and Amber Scholz that suggested the two belonged to a subset of the Norteños street gang.