Judge gives man 16 years for murder

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A man who shot and killed his cousin five years ago wanted to be released from jail and be placed on house arrest, but instead, a district court judge sentenced him Tuesday to the maximum of 16 years in prison.

Edward Jude Baca, 59, pleaded no contest in August to second-degree murder for the death of his cousin, 56-year-old Joseph Montoya.

Baca apologized to his family as well as the victim's family Tuesday, saying "I know you'll never forgive me."

According to court documents, Baca drove to Montoya's house in Casa Colorada on Oct. 25, 2008, after he said someone broke into his home and stole some items. He accused his ex-girlfriend, who, he claims, was having an affair with Montoya.

It was when Baca confronted Montoya in his frontyard that he shot him. Prosecutor Bryan McKay told District Judge William Sanchez during the sentencing hearing Tuesday that Baca shot the victim with a shotgun in the stomach, standing no less than seven feet away.

The prosecutor told the judge that Baca had threatened to kill Montoya several times before the shooting, and that while the shooting might not have been premeditated, it was an intentional murder.

Defense attorney Todd Farkas told the judge his client has suffered from several mental disorders, including severe depression and anxiety, and has reduced mental capacity due to several strokes he suffered a couple of years before the shooting.

Forensic psychologist Dr. Eric Westfried, an expert in neuropsychology, testified that after the shooting, Baca developed PTSD, which, he says, is an indication that Baca is remorseful for the crime.

Westfried said he believes Baca would be amenable to treatment outside of a prison setting if it was strictly controlled.

While McKay asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence of 16 years, Farkas asked Sanchez to take into consideration that while at the Valencia County Detention Center, Baca has never been written up and has "done very well" while incarcerated.

He also asked that Baca be placed on five years probation, be placed on house arrest and be ordered to complete 1,000 hours of community service, or 20 hours per week for 50 weeks.

Baca's ex-wife, Debbie Hensen, pleaded with Sanchez to impose the maximum sentence. She told the judge she was a victim of domestic violence while married to Baca, and was afraid that if he got out of jail, her family would be in danger.

"I'm worried for the safety of the grandchildren we share," Hensen said. "My daughter-in-law said if he gets released, she would move far away and take my grandchildren with her."

Hensen said she has the deepest sympathy for the Montoya family, saying "There is no excuse for this malicious murder."

The victim's sister, Mary Jane Salazar, told the judge that months before that fateful day, her brother was excited that Baca had started visiting him.

"They were friends — they were family," Salazar said.

But, Salazar said, when Baca started beating up his girlfriend, Montoya became her friend and she would go to his home as a safe haven. She said that is when Baca started threatening Montoya.

Salazar said the shooting of her brother has shaken the family and, "in many ways, has broken up the family."

"I love and miss my brother deeply," she told the judge. "This was not God's will, but Edward Jude Baca's will."

Baca's father, Eddie, asked the judge for leniency for his son, saying he is sorry for what his son did, but said "We're still family."

"They want him to spend the rest of his life in prison," the defendant's father said. "But five years is enough."

Baca's father said his son never got in trouble while growing up, finished high school and was a diesel mechanic.

"My son is a very sick man …," he said. "If he hadn't had the strokes, he wouldn't have done this."

Before being sentenced, Baca told the judge that many of the things that were said in the courtroom were not true, but that alcohol did play a part in his life.

Saying he never wanted to drink again, and during his five years in jail, he's seen people come and go because of alcohol and drugs.

"I'd like the opportunity to prove myself to the court and to be a productive citizen," Baca said. "I promise to make the most of my life and be a model citizen."

Sanchez said he believes Baca's crime is a violent offense that could have been avoided. The judge said while he has sympathy for Baca's family, Westfried's report helped him decide to sentence the defendant to the maximum 16 years in prison.

"It talks about Mr. Baca's substance abuse problems, so I'm concerned with his lack of insight, I'm concerned about (his) impulsivity and stress," Sanchez said.

"And for those reasons, it's really difficult for this court to take a chance on Mr. Baca. The request that Mr. Baca be placed on probation is something that I cannot risk myself.

Sanchez said he's concerned about the safety of the Montoya family, Baca's ex-wife, the public and any future girlfriend he might have.

The judge decided that Baca will receive good-time credit, but refused to suspend any time off his 16-year sentence.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.