A couple’s New Year’s Eve night out at an Old Sacramento sports bar veered into violence in a matter of minutes, triggered, prosecutors say, by a jostled drink and a perceived slight.
A beer bottle crashed before shots rang out in a crowded corner of the Sports Corner Café that night. By the time the shooting stopped, Gabriel Cordova, a husband and father of three, and Daniel Farrier, a security guard and returning military man four months on the job after tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, lay dead on the bar room floor.
Cordova’s wife, Cristina, and Stephen Walton, another security guard, were seriously wounded and Cristina Cordova screamed for someone to help her fallen husband as the wounded guard returned fire then chased their attacker through crowds of New Year’s revelers.
Trial began this week in Sacramento Superior Court in the murder trial of Charles Fowler-Scholz, 37, and Carlito Montoya, 25, three years after their arrests in the New Year’s Eve 2012 shootings that threw the Old Sacramento celebrations into chaos.
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“They felt disrespected, so they went with death – a senseless act of violence that wouldn’t have happened but for the fact that we’re dealing with two gang members,” prosecuting Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Anthony Ortiz said in his opening statement Wednesday.
Montoya had a gun that night, his attorney Karol Repkow offered in her Wednesday opening statement, saying her client was responsible for what happened that night, but is not guilty of murder in the fatal shootings. Repkow told jurors she plans to ask for a manslaughter verdict, saying Montoya was mentally impaired from alcohol that night.
She called the killings “an alcohol-induced, crazy, senseless act.”
“What happened that New Year’s Eve night was a tragedy,” Repkow said. “What happened was senseless, and it happened over a spilled drink.”
I heard a bang. It was too loud and too close to be fireworks. I realized it was a gunshot. I heard another shot and the security guard fell down in front of me. He died right in front of me.
Manuel Gutierrez, testifying Thursday about the bar fight that ended in the deaths of his cousin, Gabriel Cordova, and security guard Daniel Farrier
Fowler-Scholz and Montoya sport tattoos pledging allegiance to the Norteños street gang. Montoya backed up the pledge that New Year’s Eve with a Sig Sauer 9 mm handgun tucked into his waistband, Ortiz said. Fowler-Scholz’s wife, Amber, and another man were also by their side. The group was jovial and drinking heavily, one witness testified Thursday, chasing down shots of Hennessey cognac with beer after beer, greeting patrons with handshakes and shouts of “Happy New Year.”
“They came in happy. One shook my hand and said ‘Happy New Year,’ ” said Manuel Gutierrez, a cousin of Gabriel Cordova, on Thursday.
But Tamara Woods, who was at the bar with her boyfriend and two of his friends, kept a wary eye on the group, she testified Thursday before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Cheryl Chun Meegan. Their demeanor; heavy, hooded sweatshirts; and baggy clothes stood out on a New Year’s Eve night, she said.
To Woods, “they looked like they were on a mission to do something,” she testified.
The Cordovas had planned to spend a few hours at Old Sacramento bars with a couple of cousins before heading home for a family barbecue to ring in the New Year. They stopped at Sports Corner before calling it a night. Walton was training Farrier, keeping an eye on the new hire while checking in on a hookah lounge on the floor above the bar. New Year’s Eve was Farrier’s first big night in charge of security at the bar, Walton testified.
Their paths crossed when prosecutors say Amber Scholz bumped Gabriel Cordova at the bar, spilling his drink onto her arm. She angrily confronted an apologetic Cordova, then called over her husband Charles Fowler-Scholz and Montoya to settle the score, according to the prosecution. What happened next was captured by the bar’s surveillance cameras, as key a witness to the events that night as anyone on the stand, Ortiz said.
“The witness will not come from the witness stand,” Ortiz said Wednesday. “It will come from a video.”
Jurors watched the grainy video of the tussle between Fowler-Scholz and Cordova. Fowler-Scholz had challenged Cordova to a fight as another one of Cordova’s cousins stepped in between the men. Glass breaks over Cordova’s head before the fight erupts, bringing Farrier to the scene.
The man witnesses on the stand identified as Montoya then pulls out a handgun before muzzle flashes light up the frame.
“I grabbed Gabe to pull off Scholz and then I heard a bang,” Gutierrez said. “It was too loud and too close to be fireworks. I realized it was a gunshot. I heard another shot and the security guard fell down in front of me. He died right in front of me.”
Walton, hurried back to the bar from the upstairs lounge at the sound of gunshots, he testified. A blast from Montoya’s gun pierced his stomach and knocked him backward before he returned fire, wounding Montoya, before chasing him down the street ahead of pursuing police officers.
“I’m screaming ‘shooter,’ with my gun drawn,” said Walton, who walks with the use of a cane three years after the shooting. “I’m directly behind him and I grabbed him.”
Cristina Cordova testified Wednesday that she was at the juke box around 10 p.m. when she saw a fight break out across the bar. Somebody was going toward her husband with something in his hand, she testified.
Cordova said she recognized the man because he had wished the Cordovas a happy new year earlier that night. Then came the gunshots. Cordova searched the room for her husband and saw a man with a gun, she said, before she, too, was shot as she tried to find cover. The round shattered her foot. On the floor was Gabriel Cordova, alive, but fighting for his life. Next to him, Farrier was already dead.