Jun. 23-Estevan Montoya showed no reaction in state District Court on Wednesday when a judge gave him the maximum sentence of life in prison for the August 2020 death of Santa Fe High School basketball star Fedonta "JB" White.
Montoya, 18, who fatally shot White at a late-night house party in Chupadero, was convicted last month on a count of first-degree murder and other charges. He will be eligible for parole after at least 30 years of incarceration. Because he was a juvenile at the time of the crime, he could not be sentenced to life without parole.
His two-week trial in May - which included the testimony of several teens and young adults who witnessed the slaying - captured the attention of a community shocked by the high-profile slaying of a beloved teen who seemed to be headed for a bright future.
White had graduated from high school a year early and was set to play on the University of New Mexico men's basketball team in fall 2020.
"Estevan Montoya does not deserve freedom," White's grandmother, Jude Voss, said in a statement read by prosecutors at Wednesday's hearing. "He chose this path. He chose to take a loaded gun to a party, pull the trigger and end my boy's life."
Before he was sentenced by District Judge T. Glenn Ellington, Montoya apologized to White's family . He also apologized to the District Attorney's Office, his defense team, Ellington and the dozens of young people who attended the Chupadero party where he shot White after the two had engaged in a brief fight.
"I wish the situation could have been different," Montoya said, reading from a prepared statement, "but no matter what I say, no matter what I do, I realize I cannot change what happened that night."
At the start of the hearing, Montoya's defense attorneys lambasted the court's pre-sentencing investigation report and asked the judge to order further psychological evaluation of Montoya before his sentencing.
Ellington declined the request.
Several of White's family members spoke to the court or had a prosecutor read a statement detailing how the teen's death has affected them over the last 22 months.
"JB got joy out of making people happy," White's aunt Kaila Boston said in a statement. "He was the person that always wanted to be nice to everybody."
Zack Cole, White's cousin by marriage and his basketball coach for three years, stood before the court and recounted the months in which White was being recruited by multiple Division I college basketball programs and the praise heaped upon him by recruiters.
"Four coaches told me, 'You know that you're coaching a pro basketball player right?' I replied 'no,' " Cole said. "Multiple coaches replied to me by saying, 'Well that's what one looks like. He is a star.' "
White's sister, Chantel Esquibel, remembered how excited her brother was to be an uncle and lamented the fact that her son would not get to "remember his uncle JB."
"My brother did not deserve to pass the way he did," Esquibel said. "He did not deserve to be as scared as he was the night he passed. He did not deserve to beg for his life the way that he did, and as an older sister that hurts me so bad because I was not there to protect him."
White's cousin Adrienne Cole said she wondered which path Montoya would have taken if he had the same support system as White - and that his family will be left to wonder as well.
"His life isn't over," she said of Montoya. "The defendant has his life. His family can watch him grow, they can hear his voice [and] they get to visit him. Our family will never get any of those opportunities."
White's family members urged Ellington to impose the maximum sentence.
Before doing so, Ellington spoke about the context in which White's death occurred, with a rise in youth gang activity and gun violence, issues in the Santa Fe community he said have "kind of lost focus" due to the high-profile nature of the case.
"The gangs that involve young boys are a little bit different," the judge said. "They seek what we all seek in life. They want to be accepted. They want to be loved ... and they don't have that in the normal ways that most people do."
Ellington said joining a gang could be a "life-changing event," and he stressed the role of youth gang violence and the increase in shootings throughout Santa Fe as key factors surrounding White's death.
Montoya was affiliated with a group called the South Side Goons, which has been characterized as a gang. However, his friend Kane Flores contended the group is not a gang.
"The South Side Goons, we are not a gang. We are not gang associated with anyone else," he said in an interview after the proceedings. "We make music, and to this day we continually make music every day, and it's something we're passionate about."
Flores said he is worried about how Montoya will fare in prison and remains angry over the slaying of their mutual friend, Ivan Armando "Mando" Perez, a case that remains unresolved.
Perez died just weeks before Montoya was accused of killing White.
"It angers me that nobody talks about him," Flores said. "... Estevan would have never had a gun if Ivan never got killed."
Ellington lamented the fact that multiple witnesses refused to testify in a murder case against a teen accused in Perez's fatal shooting, forcing prosecutors to dismiss the charges.
Voss said after the hearing she was "relieved" about the outcome of Montoya's case but said it would not bring back the grandson she had raised.
"It's going to put some closure for me, but I'm still forever changed," Voss said. "I'm still broken, but I'm so glad this is over with."