A beer in his left hand, his right hand on his gun in the middle of a crowded bar, Carlito Montoya faced the ultimate choice, a Sacramento County prosecutor said Tuesday.
He chose to fire his weapon and within minutes that night on New Year’s Eve 2012, two men were dead, shot by Montoya at close range. Two other people lay wounded.
Jurors heard closing arguments Tuesday in Montoya’s murder trial in Sacramento Superior Court. Weeks of testimony took jurors back to Dec. 31, 2012, and the revelry that turned to bloodshed when Gabriel Cordova and security guard Daniel Farrier were shot and killed inside the Sports Corner Cafe in Old Sacramento, the mayhem triggered by a spilled drink at the bar.
“Gabriel Cordova and Daniel Farrier had no chance that night. What can you say they did wrong? Nothing,” said prosecuting Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Anthony Ortiz, who asked jurors to convict Montoya of first-degree murder.
Montoya’s co-defendant, Charles Fowler-Scholz, also faces murder charges in the fatal shootings, but elected a court trial before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Cheryl Chun Meegan. Those proceedings are expected to begin later this week. Fowler-Scholz’s wife, Amber Olivia Scholz, whose complaint at the bar over Cordova’s spilled drink triggered the chaos to come, was also charged. She slipped out the bar’s front door before the shots were fired, but reached a plead agreement last June to a felony assault charge connected to the killings.
The mayhem inside the Sports Corner Cafe in Old Sacramento was triggered by a spilled drink at the bar
Ortiz said the couple’s violence was set loose that night by their affiliation with the notorious Norteños street gang and the disrespect they perceived after the spilled drink.
Defense counsel Karol Repko said Montoya is responsible for the shootings, but had no intention of killing anyone when Montoya, Fowler-Scholz and Fowler-Scholz’s wife walked into the bar.
“This night was not about a plan to commit a crime. This night was about celebrating New Year’s Eve by drinking,” Repko said, citing their festive mood and heavy police presence in Old Sacramento that night. Montoya wasn’t wearing gang colors or flashing gang signs, Repko said. Violence, she said, “wasn’t in Montoya’s mind. These are men celebrating New Year’s Eve by getting drunk and having a good time.”
Drink they did, slamming shots of cognac and washing them down with bottles of beer, according to testimony. Montoya’s blood alcohol content was 0.18; Fowler-Scholz blew 0.17 at the time of the arrests – each more than twice the legal limit, prosecutors said. At the bar, Cordova’s jostled drink splashed Amber Scholz’s arm, setting the stage for what happened next, Repko said.
“Amber walks over to her drunk husband and tells him what happened,” Repko said. Fowler-Scholz’s response? “You want me to punch him?” Repko said. Fowler-Scholz and Montoya crowd Cordova, security cameras show. Montoya was not planning to use the gun, Repko said.
“Then everything explodes,” she said. Cordova and Farrier, who rushed to break up the scuffle before the shots were fired, lay on the floor.
Cordova’s wife, Christina Cordova, was shot in a foot. Security guard Stephen Walton, who was training Farrier, was also shot and seriously wounded, but managed to return fire, wounding Montoya before detaining him outside the bar with the help of Sacramento police officers.
“Within moments, two men are dead. It was a terrible tragedy what happened that night. ... As tragic as it is, Montoya is not guilty of first-degree murder,” Repko said.
But Ortiz argued the gang life Montoya and Fowler-Scholz lived – Montoya in East Oakland, Fowler-Scholz in Sacramento – led to the fatal shootings.
“This wouldn’t have happened but for two Norteño gang members who felt disrespected,” Ortiz said.
Deliberations in Montoya’s trial resume Wednesday.