TAMPA — A towing company owner will not invoke Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law as his justification for fatally shooting a man who tried to take his car back. At the opening of Donald Montanez's second-degree murder trial Tuesday, his lawyers conceded he may have had no legal right to be where he was when he opened fire.
But defense lawyers told a jury that the towing was irrelevant anyway. The important issue, they said, was that Montanez feared for his life as a 3,000-pound car driven by Glen Rich, 30, hurtled toward him on Jan. 8, 2006.
Montanez "had 2.8 seconds" to guess whether he would be hit, defense attorney Jay Hebert said, pounding his hand three times on his lectern. Hebert said the jury would be taken to the scene later in the week.
The evidence being heard is virtually the same as presented in 2009 and 2010 when a Hillsborough circuit judge and an appeals court refused to throw out the murder charge based on the Stand Your Ground law.
The death was the tragic end to a joyous weekend reunion of three brothers that involved a celebration at a Tampa after-hours club called the Sugar Shack, then an attempt to liberate their towed car before it could be transferred to an impound lot.
On Tuesday, Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner said Montanez was essentially stealing Glen Rich's Chrysler Sebring when he towed it from a public right of way on Bonacker Drive near Hillsborough Avenue.
Montanez had a towing contract with Builders Hardware and other nearby businesses. An overflow of cars from the Sugar Shack had parked along the roadway.
The trouble between Rich and Montanez, owner of Private Property Commercial Impound Co., started after Rich tracked his car to a nearby lot where towed cars were being put on a flatbed truck.
Pruner said Montanez had no permission to use the lot and was trespassing. It was 5 a.m.
James Murray, 30, testified Tuesday that he was with his friend Rich and Rich's two brothers when Montanez pulled out his gun and told them all to get back.
"I saw the red beam (from the laser sight) on my chest," Murray said. He threw his hands up. "I said, 'Please don't shoot.' "
Behind him, he heard the car start and rev up, then a gunshot. He saw the car speed out of the lot. Rich had been shot in the right armpit. He made it to a nearby gas station, where he stopped and collapsed.
Defense lawyer Hebert said he would bring in special electronic equipment that would show differences in sound waves at critical moments.
"With smoke and debris flying at 5 in the morning, he made a life-or-death decision."