SAN ANTONIO – It took more than four-and-a-half years for Richard Montez’s case to go to trial but only four-and-a-half hours on Thursday for a jury to convict him of capital murder.
Montez was the third man charged and convicted in the shooting deaths of Angel Gebara, 14, and Benito Gallegos, 69, at a West Side housing project in February 2018. The other two men, cousins Andres and Juan Martinez, took plea deals and were sentenced in August to 22 and 24 years, respectively.
“We are here because he is the one guy left, and he’s the ringleader,” special prosecutor James Ishimoto told the jury during closing arguments. “It wasn’t Juan Martinez, who was 18 at the time, or his 20-year-old cousin. It’s him. He’s the guy in charge.”
Montez, who was 33 at the time of the shooting, stood stony faced as the verdict was read, though he seemed to forget to sit down afterward. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Gebara’s mother, Angela Medina, covered her face as the guilty verdict was read and tearfully confronted Montez with her grief during the victim impact statements.
“You ruined my life, my kids’ life. You ruined my son’s life. We had plans. You took everything from me. Everything,” Medina said.
Prosecutors say Gallegos and another 60-year-old man got lost around midnight on Feb. 3 and ended up near where Montez and the Martinez cousins were in the Cassiano Homes.
Juan Martinez testified for the prosecution and said Montez had used methamphetamine “more than a few” hours earlier and was jumpy and paranoid. The older man had a bag of weapons that he passed out, too, Martinez said.
Martinez said a car pulled up fast nearby and two “elderlies” walked in front of them. Montez approached them and started talking, Martinez said, and they started arguing.
Thinking Gallegos or the other man was reaching for his waist, Martinez said he pointed two handguns at the men and told them to leave, which they did, heading back to their car.
Martinez testified that Montez said, “We have to do something. We have to take them out, or they might come back,” and shots quickly followed, though he did not know if Montez or his cousin fired first.
Martinez claims he never fired a gun himself.
Police later found a bullet hole in the back of the vehicle in which Gallegos had been a passenger. Though he was initially reported to have only been grazed, Gallegos’s family says he collapsed when he arrived at University Hospital, and a bullet was found to be stuck in his head.
He died a little more than two weeks later after being taken off life support.
Meanwhile, Angel Gebara was in his father’s apartment nearby in the same housing project and was shot in the head by an apparent stray round.
Montez’s attorneys questioned Martinez’s credibility, telling jurors during closing arguments that they knew Martinez had “lied to you” because of the ballistics report.
They also suggested the shooting could have been self-defense.
“Reaching for the waist, had a bulge. There’s a rebar and a cane that, from a distance, could appear to be a gun. So they go into the car and reach for those two items. It’s reasonable to think that maybe they do have a weapon,” defense attorney Orlando Castanon said during closing arguments. “No offense to police officers, but they shoot people all the time for less.”
Prosecutors scoffed at the self-defense argument.
“The victim (Gallegos) had the cane,” special prosecutor John Kuntz said during closing arguments. “That guy came up and started mad-dogging him (Montez) and his two friends, each one of them who’s got at least one handgun on them, really? At midnight? Does that make sense at all? That makes zero sense.”
The prosecution also brushed off questions about who fired the fatal rounds. They noted it does not make a difference under Texas’s “law of parties.”
“If you’re a party, you’re in for a penny. You’re in for a pound. You’re guilty,” Ishimoto told the jury.
Montez’s case took some recent twists when a previous special prosecutor decided to dismiss the charge against him on Aug. 1 rather than go to trial without several “essential” witnesses.
That allowed him to go free until prosecutors could get him re-indicted, which happened Sep. 27. It took another week-and-a-half until law enforcement could track him down at a hotel room in Kenedy and arrest him on Oct. 7.