TAMPA — After deliberating for three-and-a-half hours Wednesday, jurors did not reach a verdict in the trial of Donald Montanez, the towing company owner accused of second-degree murder.
At 5 p.m. Wednesday, Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente released the jury for the night. They will reconvene this morning.
Montanez shot Glen Rich on Jan. 8, 2006, as Rich tried to drive away in his just-towed car near the now-defunct Sugar Shack, an after-hours club in east Tampa.
In closing statements Wednesday morning, jurors were given two very different versions of events.
Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner said Montanez should be convicted because he killed with a "depraved mind" during an illegal tow.
He wasn't defending himself from a car that was barreling toward him, as the defense had argued, Pruner said.
Montanez just wanted to protect the $186 he'd make on the impounded car, the attorney said.
Pruner pointed out inconsistencies in defense witnesses' testimony and said that tire tracks and debris show that Rich was turning left in an effort to avoid those in the area. "From the moment he accelerated, he had turned his car to the left to avoid anybody," Pruner said.
But defense attorney Denis deVlaming said Montanez made a moral and legal decision to protect himself and others in the face of death, and therefore Montanez used justifiable force.
"Like it or not, when it comes to self-preservation, we're just like the animals in the jungle," deVlaming said. "We're going to try to protect ourselves and then those around us."
He added that Montanez's actions may have saved his employee Lorraine Whitehead's life.
Montanez faces seven charges, the most serious of which is second-degree murder. If convicted of that charge, he could face life in prison.
Reach Jessica Vander Velde at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.