Thursday, June 21, 2018
News Roundup

Jurors find Donald Montanez guilty of manslaughter, third-degree murder

TAMPA — He had killed a man over a car, but for six years towing company owner Donald Montanez walked free on bail.

He continued to tow while the victim's family waited on a trial and a verdict.

It came Thursday. After nearly 12 hours of deliberation, six jurors found Montanez guilty of manslaughter and third-degree felony murder because he was committing grand theft auto when he fatally shot Glen Rich.

Deputies had Montanez take off his tie and belt. He handed them cash and wiped balm across his lips before handing it to a deputy.

"I'm okay," he told a woman. "I'm strong."

Then deputies led him away in handcuffs. And Bennie Rich smiled.

On Jan. 8, 2006, Rich's son, Glen Rich, was shot while trying to drive away in his just-towed Chrysler Sebring after a night out in eastern Hillsborough County with his brothers.

Defense attorneys had argued that Rich's car was bearing down on Montanez and that he fired his weapon in self-defense.

A prosecutor said Rich, 30, was angling away from several tow company workers as he tried to drive off in his car, which had been illegally towed.

Witnesses testified that Montanez had pulled his gun and pointed it at several men before Rich even got in the car.

Montanez, 50, was also found guilty of two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of improper exhibition of a firearm and also of shooting at or within a vehicle.

These are his first convictions.

Montanez can't be sentenced on both the manslaughter and murder charges, and a defense attorney speculated the manslaughter charge — the lesser one — would be dropped.

The minimum sentence for third-degree felony murder is 25 years. The maximum: life in prison.

That's what Bennie Rich hopes Montanez gets. He plans to fly down from his New Jersey home for the sentencing May 4.

"I can't get my son back," he said. "He doesn't have a life; why should that man?"

Glen Rich's mother, Eva Stephens, also sat through each day of the trial, though she walked out when attorneys played a 911 call with her son's last recorded words.

"It brought back a lot of hurt," Stephens said.

She says she forgave Montanez years ago and would have been fine if he had been acquitted because it would have been God's will.

"I pray that whatever happens, he learns from it," she said.

But it has been difficult for her, she said. She remember how happy her son was to buy that Chrysler Sebring, his first really nice car.

"I loved him," she said. "He was my one and only son."

The case took six years to go to trial partly because of the many motions attorneys filed. The trial was set and postponed several times.

In 2009 and 2010, courts heard the defense argue that Montanez's murder charge should be thrown out based on the "Stand Your Ground" law, which states that anyone not committing a crime can use deadly force if he or she feels threatened with death or great bodily harm.

But last week, it became clear the defense would not invoke Stand Your Ground. In opening statements, attorneys conceded Montanez may have had no legal right to be where he was when he opened fire.

And on Thursday, jurors ruled that Montanez also had no legal right to tow the car, which, according to Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner, had been parked on the right of way — an area where Montanez's company had no authority to tow.

"He just wanted to have a good time," Bennie Rich said about his son. "I've been waiting six years for this."

Times staff writer Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

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