Carlito Montoya, the trigger man in a deadly Old Sacramento bar rampage on New Year’s Eve 2012, was convicted Friday of first-degree murder, gun and gang charges in Sacramento Superior Court.
What started as a confrontation over a spilled drink at the Sports Corner Cafe the night of Dec. 31, 2012, ended with Montoya’s bullets fired point-blank at Gabriel Cordova, a father of three celebrating the new year with his wife and friends; and Daniel Ferrier, a returning military veteran and a new security guard working the door at the bar. Both men died of their injuries.
Cordova’s wife, Christina, was wounded, as was security guard Stephan Walton, who managed to return Montoya’s fire and later detain the Norteño gang member with the help of Sacramento police despite his injuries.
Jurors needed little more than a day to return guilty verdicts against Montoya, 25, on two counts of first-degree murder for killing Cordova and Ferrier, along with attempted murder. Jurors also found that he used a gun to commit the crimes and was affiliated with a Norteño gang – East Oakland’s Murder Dubs. Montoya is scheduled to be sentenced May 12 before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Cheryl Chun Meegan. He faces life in prison without parole.
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“This was a long time coming and we’re thankful for (the verdict) for the family,” said prosecuting Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Anthony Ortiz.
At trial, Ortiz told jurors of the widely divergent worlds that collided on the barroom floor that night: the violent gun-fueled world of Norteño gang culture; the husband and wife enjoying a New Year’s Eve night out and a bouncer working a festive but busy night shift.
Montoya, friend and co-defendant Charles Fowler-Scholz, 37, and Scholz’s wife, Amber Olivia Scholz, drank cognac shots and beer at the bar and had a greeting for most anyone who passed by. One of the group had wished the Cordovas a happy new year earlier that night, Christina Cordova testified earlier at trial.
But Fowler-Scholz also flashed his Norteño tattoos. Montoya had a gun tucked into the waistband of his sweatpants and Amber Scholz was quick to anger. She confronted Gabriel Cordova after bumping him at the bar and spilling his drink on her arm, before calling her husband and Montoya to settle the matter, prosecutors said. To Montoya and Fowler-Scholz, the spilled drink was a sign of disrespect, Ortiz argued.
Montoya’s attorney Karol Repkow conceded Montoya was responsible for the fatal shootings but argued for a lesser charge, saying he did not wear gang clothing or flash gang signs and that the shooting was unplanned and was driven by drunkenness. Montoya’s blood alcohol content was 0.17, twice the legal limit, when he and Fowler-Scholz were arrested.
“It wasn’t the intent,” Repkow told jurors in his closing argument Wednesday. Instead, Repkow said, Montoya fired instantly, without thinking.
But video footage from the bar provided the most damning evidence. In it, Fowler-Scholz challenged Cordova to fight at a corner of the bar. Someone smashed glass over Cordova’s head, triggering the brawl that brought Ferrier to the scene. The video images showed Montoya pulling out a gun and firing the shots that would kill Cordova and Ferrier.
“Five shots kill Daniel Ferrier, but the rampage doesn’t stop there,” Ortiz said during his closing argument Wednesday. “Stephan Walton is next. He aims at Stephan Walton and fires two times. He sees another opportunity to kill and fires three shots into Gabriel Cordova, killing him. This incident wouldn’t have occurred but for two Norteño gang members who felt disrespected.”
Josh Bean sat at the rear of the courtroom Friday. He and Ferrier had been “friends since we were babies,” Bean said, and worked together at the Sports Corner Cafe. A car wreck a day earlier prevented Bean from working New Year’s Eve, he said. On Friday, he thanked prosecutors and expressed relief at the jurors’ decision.
“We are relieved that there was a guilty verdict,” Bean said.
Fowler-Scholz is also facing murder charges in the killings and remains held in lieu of $1 million bail in Sacramento County Main Jail. He waived his right to a jury trial. Closing arguments in his case are scheduled March 29 before Meegan. Amber Scholz reached a plea agreement last June to a felony assault charge in connection with the deadly shootings. She faces sentencing June 24.