Crime - Sacto 911

Man draws life sentence for murder after judge rejects a friend’s last-minute claim

Acquitted of murder, Tony Van made a play to help out a co-defendant who was convicted of murder in a 2008 Sacramento shooting and was looking into the abyss of a life term in prison.

Now, Van’s got a judge calling him a liar.

Then she sentenced Van’s friend, Ravinesh Singh, to a prison term of 50 years to life for the Oct. 13, 2008, shooting death of 22-year-old Joseph Montoya on a residential street east of Bing Maloney Golf Course.

Now 26, Van was tried in the case along with Singh, 28, and found not guilty . The jury did, however, convict Van of being an accessory after the fact for driving his friend and a third defendant, Darnell Dabney, to Seattle the night of the shooting at Hing Avenue and 27th Street.

Released on time served after his Oct. 11 sentencing, Van last month called Singh’s lawyer, Michael Bowman, and this week signed a sworn affidavit saying it wasn’t Singh who killed Montoya. Instead, Van’s affidavit sought to shift the blame to Dabney, who pleaded to an accessory charge two years ago and testified at trial against Singh and Van.

The affidavit was included in Bowman’s motion for a new trial, which Judge Maryanne G. Gilliard quickly turned away Friday.

According to police and prosecutors, Van, Singh and Dabney had driven to a house on Hing Avenue to work out a marijuana deal.

There was no problem with the $500 transaction, but while they were waiting for the deal, Singh – sitting in Van’s car – spotted Montoya in the front yard, authorities said.

Singh walked up to Montoya, who had nothing to do with the pot deal, and fired a bullet into his face, jurors found. Then Singh shot Montoya twice more in the stomach, before firing a final bullet to the groin.

Singh was angry, because he believed Montoya had shot his cousin on the Fourth of July 2006, Deputy District Attorney Sheri Greco told the jurors.

Greco said there was no evidence to support Singh’s contention that Montoya shot his cousin. At Friday’s sentencing, the prosecutor characterized Montoya as “an unarmed innocent,” and the judge agreed.

“This was an execution of an unarmed innocent individual sitting in a friend’s front yard eating his dinner,” Gilliard said.

Van’s affidavit said several people were standing around the house on Hing Avenue when they drove up a shortly after 10 p.m. When Dabney returned to the car after buying the marijuana, Van told him he had a problem with one of the guys there they called “Little Joe.”

“Don’t trip,” Van swore that Dabney told him. “I’m on it.”

The affidavit said Dabney then “went to say hi to everyone and called Little Joe to the streets. When he called Little Joe to the street is when he shot him.”

In presenting the affidavit to court Friday as part of his new trial motion for Singh, defense attorney Bowman said he was precluded from talking to Van during trial because the co-defendant was represented by another lawyer, William White. Bowman said Van’s story was corroborated by another witness on Hing Avenue. Bowman said Dabney had lied to investigators several times before trial and that his credibility was highly suspect.

Greco argued that Bowman’s motion was almost a total repeat of his closing argument at trial, which the jury rejected. The prosecutor called the affidavit “fabricated.”

“The shooter, as the trial established beyond a reasonable doubt, was Ravinesh Singh,” Greco said.

The judge, in rejecting the new trial motion, also thrashed Van’s credibility. In the affidavit, Van said he did not testify at trial on the advice of his lawyer. Gilliard said that sworn statement did not square with his response to her during trial when she asked him if he agreed with the decision to not take the stand in his own behalf.

“He indicated it was his decision not to testify, so he was either lying to the court then, or he’s lying now,” Gilliard said from the bench. She said she found the affidavit “self-serving, incredible and technically perjury, because he signed it under the penalty of perjury.”

Whether a perjury charge ever makes it to court is problematic, because it would require the District Attorney’s Office to retry a murder case that took five years to prosecute the first time around.