Tow truck murder trial: Jury convicts Donald Montanez on all counts

6:25 PM, Mar 1, 2012   |    comments
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Update: The jury has come back with a verdict of guilty on all counts against Donald Montanez.

10 News will have more information...

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Tampa, Florida - They're now into their second day.

Jurors are still deliberating at the Hillsborough County Courthouse in the trial of a tow truck company owner accused of murder.

Members of the jury got the case at exactly 1:23 p.m. Wednesday. When they could not reach a decision by the end of the day, the jurors went home.

They began deliberations once again at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. The only movement so far is a question that jurors had for the judge.

The judge read the question from jurors, "Where is the definition of third degree murder?" They also asked about the definition of third degree felony murder.

Both the state and defense attorneys spent all morning Wednesday addressing the jury during closing arguments. 

Jurors took such copious notes during testimony that most court watchers thought a verdict would be returned by Wednesday afternoon.

But at the end of the day, there was no decision.

Jurors have a lot to consider.  Was this a case of self defense or murder?

Donald Montanez, who owns a 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 says 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 5am.

"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." 

Hebert pointed out that Montanez's employee was called a victim during that incident, as noted in a police report.

Hebert also pointed to jurors out that his client was not put into handcuffs at the crime scene and that he was "more than cooperative."

Hebert's 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 for 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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