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Jury debates whether shooting was murder or self-defense

Published: Thursday, April 4 2013 6:00 p.m. MDT

Law enforcement officers search an empty Kearns home for Joshua Montoya, on March 5, 2010. During his trial this week, Montoya admitted shooting Amos Pacheco, 25, his ex-wife's boyfriend, but said it was in self-defense. Jurors are deliberating whether it was murder or self-defense.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A jury is deliberating whether a man who shot and killed his ex-wife's boyfriend acted in self-defense or in sheer anger.

An eight-person jury began deliberations in the case against Joshua James Montoya, 29, around 3:50 p.m. Thursday. Montoya is charged with murder, a first-degree felony, and obstructing justice, a second-degree felony, in the fatal March 5, 2010, shooting of Amos Pacheco, 25.

Montoya took the stand in his own defense Wednesday and said he shot Pacheco in self-defense during a scuffle to gain control of a gun that he said Pacheco was carrying. Defense attorney Isaac McDougall went further, telling the jury it was an accident.

"You heard him testifying about how everything happened so fast, and it did," McDougall said. "(Montoya) sees the gun. They struggle over the gun. … As they are wrestling for the gun, he sort of trips. … He falls back and the gun goes off."

But prosecutor Chou Chou Collins offered a different interpretation of events to jurors.

"The defendant is here. He testified. He said the gun went off in his hand, so he's not denying the shooting," she said. "The defendant started the argument. The car door was locked, and he pounded on the car door to open it while Amos was sitting there. … Then he got out the gun and shot him.

"That's not self-defense. … That's intentionally trying to kill somebody."

The shooting occurred in front of a house near 5700 South and 4500 West. Pacheco and Montoya's ex-wife had just dropped off her three children, ages 9, 8, and 4, to visit Montoya, their father, police said.

The children went into the house and Montoya came out to the SUV parked on the street and confronted his ex-wife and Pacheco. Police believe the two men argued before Montoya pulled out a gun and shot Pacheco, who was still sitting in the passenger seat of the car. Pacheco lived with the children's mother in Taylorsville, police said.

Collins pointed to forensic evidence, specifically that Pacheco's DNA was not found on the gun, but Montoya's was. She also questioned why Montoya fled from the scene, running to a friend's house where she said he tried to hide the gun.

McDougall said his client panicked and feared retaliation from Pacheco's family, who lived nearby. He pointed out that while he did run, Montoya did not dispose of the gun in a number of places he passed during the four- or five-mile trek to his friend's house.

McDougall argued that the DNA evidence only showed that his client handled the gun, which is not in dispute. He also said the state's case relied too heavily on the testimony of Montoya's ex-wife, whom McDougall repeatedly referred to as "an admitted liar."

He questioned her narrative of events and wondered why she said she saw what happened and yet the 911 call she placed just prior to the shooting didn't include gunfire. He said she may also have feared retaliation from Pacheco's family.

Collins said the woman was on a cordless phone outside her home and the connection was poor. She also said the woman made it clear she was not afraid of Pacheco's family.

She pointed to the way the argument played out, saying that Pacheco stayed inside the car and did nothing, while Montoya "was the aggressor from beginning to end." Beyond that, she said the gun used in the shooting had a safety.

"It's not a hair trigger," Collins said. "The gun didn't just go off."  

The courtroom of 3rd District Judge Deno Himonas was packed on both sides Thursday with Montoya and Pacheco's family and friends. 

E-mail: emorgan@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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