No verdict in tow truck trial; jury home for night

10:22 PM, Feb 29, 2012   |    comments
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TAMPA, Fla. -- They got the case at exactly 1:23 p.m. on Wednesday.

Jurors worked all afternoon in the case of a tow truck company owner accused of murder, but they did not return a verdict. Instead, they told the judge they would go home for the night and resume deliberations on Thursday morning.

Is this a good sign for the defense that members of the jury did not come back quickly with a conviction? Or are jurors taking their time and going home for the night thinking about a not guilty verdict?

Anyone who watches a jury closely will tell you it's quite unpredictable and a foolish game to assume what jurors will do.

"You just never know," said one attorney at the Hillsborough County Courthouse who wished not to be named.  "You can't tell until they read that final verdict out loud. Then, you know."

Earlier in the day, attorneys for both sides presented their closing arguments to the jury as jurors took copious notes.

Some people were thinking there could have been a verdict as early as Wednesday afternoon.

Alas, no verdict.

There is still one big question remaining: was this a case of self defense or murder? Donald Montanez, who owns the tow truck company, is accused of killing a man, Glen Rich, at the Sugar Shack bottle club back in 2006. Montanez claims that his life was in jeopardy after Rich's car was towed.

The company owner goes on to say that a vehicle was coming straight at him in a matter of 2.8 seconds at full speed. He claims he had to make a decision to protect himself and his employees.

"Imagine what it was like to be Donald Montanez," said defense attorney Jay Hebert to the jury. "Imagine what it was like."

Prosecutors firmly disagree. They paint a picture of Montanez as a greedy business owner who was only after money that fateful morning at 5 a.m.

"On January 8, 2006, when Donald Montanez pumped a .40 caliber round into the body of Glen Rich, Donald Montanez was protecting profit, not persons," said Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner.

Hebert shot back, "We called four cops to the stand. [One of them said] it was an angry mob that day, they were agitated. [One employee] was a victim, she said, in the police report."

Hebert pointed out that his client was not put into handcuffs at the crime scene and that he was more than cooperative. His co-counsel, Dennis Dvlaming, told jurors what Montanez did was what anyone would do. "The most primal instinct that a human being has when faced with being killed is to protect themselves. Because what he said he did is what a human being would do having faced with that decision," said Dvlaming.

Hebert told jurors, "Use your common sense. That's all we ask you to do."

Donald Montanez faces 20 years to life if he's convicted of second degree murder.

The state claims that Montanez knew what he was doing and called a former employee to the stand who testified that the company owner had threatened to "f-----g" kill people at the Sugar Shack.  Pruner told jurors, "Mr. Montanez had a depraved mind during the time of this killing because he killed to protect profit. He is guilty of second degree murder, ladies and gentleman, and he's also guilty of felony third degree murder."

At one point, this case was being called the Stand Your Ground trial. The defense had prepared for such a case all along. However, on the first day of opening statements, the defense took Stand Your Ground off the table, instead presenting a self defense case.

Some say it was a brilliant strategic move to throw off the prosecution after the state prepared for years to present a Stand Your Ground case. The state switched gears and then put together a case of murder, saying that Donald Montanez killed Glen Rich over money, not over self-defense.

In fact, the state said that Montanez did not need to draw his handgun with a laser sight to settle an argument with Rich in the early morning hours that day. They also maintain that he did not need to shoot Rich as Rich tried to drive off in his car, which had been towed by Montanez's towing company.

The jurors have seen a field trip to two locations tied to the case in Tampa, including a model of Rich's own car, which was brought into the courtroom.

The defense's final few witnesses said Rich was, indeed, "raging" that night.

The jurors have several decisions to consider. They could find Montanez not guilty or find him guilty of second degree murder, or third degree murder. Second degree murder is when you commit "murder with a depraved mind." Third degree murder is when someone is killed while you try to commit a non-violent felony.

The state has made the case that Montanez's company towed Rich's car illegally and essentially committed grand theft auto.

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