Courier staff writer
CONEJOS — Francisco Quintana is not guilty of second-degree attempted murder, but he is guilty of other offenses related to the August 2011 shooting of Zachary Rodriguez, a Conejos County jury ruled on Friday.
The nine women and three men on the jury reached their verdict after nearly five hours of deliberations that followed more than three days of court testimony.
While they ultimately acquitted Quintana of the most serious charge, the jurors unanimously found that he was guilty of first-degree assault, menacing with a deadly weapon and unlawful use of a Schedule II controlled substance (cocaine).
In addition to their verdicts, they determined that the Capulin man committed a crime of violence with a deadly weapon, and that the incident caused serious bodily injury to the victim.
Neither the defendant nor his attorneys ever denied he shot Rodriguez with a .22-caliber rifle during the early morning hours of Aug. 7, 2011. But they steadfastly maintained he acted in self-defense, after Rodriguez aggressively taunted him and challenged him to a fight while the victim was a guest inside Quintana’s home.
Quintana was 17 years old at the time of the shooting, and co-defense counsel Francisco Martinez told jurors his client felt threatened and scared by the behavior of the older and much bigger Rodriguez. He urged them to consider how they might have reacted if they were thrust into a similar situation.
“Put yourself in Francisco’s shoes,” Martinez said during his closing remarks. “Find his actions were reasonable. Let everyone in this county know that we have a right to defend ourselves.”
Deputy District Attorney Mark Loy countered that there was no excuse for Quintana’s actions on that day.
“When you think about this self-defense claim they have, think about this rifle,” he said.
Quintana felt no sense of urgency as he asked his older brother to retrieve the rifle from its hiding place, Loy said. Quite the contrary, he said: the defendant acted deliberately as he then moved the weapon from place to place, while Rodriguez and another guest waited in Quintana’s bedroom.
Rodriguez was never armed during his visit to the house, Loy said, and the victim never hit, strangled or even touched Quintana in a threatening manner.
Quintana later testified under oath that Rodriguez never said he was going to kill him. But Loy noted the defendant’s initial statement to a 911 dispatcher on the morning of the incident contradicts that statement:
“He tried to kill me,” Quintana said, according to an audio recording of the phone call.
The discrepancy turned out to be just one of many contradictory witness statements that jurors had to sort through during their deliberations.
Rodriguez testified on Tuesday that the shooting was the result of a drug deal gone sour.
According to his version of events, he accompanied Lena (Martinez) Atencio to the Quintana family home in Capulin, where she planned to buy cocaine from the defendant.
“There was an interaction with money and drugs going on between them,” he testified.
Rodriguez said he eventually came to the conclusion Quintana was trying to rip Atencio off, so he challenged the defendant to a fight.
Moments later, he said, Quintana rushed out of the room and then ran up an adjacent staircase. By the time Rodriguez reached the foot of the stairs, Quintana was already standing at or near the top, he said, pointing a gun at him.
Rodriguez said he told Quintana not to be a “f-----g p---y.” When the younger man fired what appeared to be a warning shot at his feet, he repeated those words, and then ran up the stairs toward the rifle.
“As soon as he took the first shot, in my mind I was like: ‘am I going to be able to get out of his range?’” he said. “It’s like fight or flight: what do I do? … So I tried to go after the rifle as fast as I could.”
He was midway up the stairs when Quintana fired the second shot, which struck him squarely in the chest, causing extensive injuries. (To this day, the .22-caliber bullet from the gun remains lodged near Rodriguez’s spine.)
In contrast to her ex-boyfriend’s statements, Atencio later denied under oath that anyone in Quintana’s room ever discussed a transaction involving money in exchange for drugs.
While Rodriguez testified that he himself did not use cocaine that day, Atencio told the court he did. According to Atencio, Rodriguez began the verbal dispute by saying the cocaine wasn’t that good.
She acknowledged there was a “little bit” of tension between the two males before they left Quintana’s room, but she said no argument occurred. According to her version of events, the two males shook hands shortly before the shooting.
Atencio’s account of the seconds leading up to the shooting also differed in several key respects from Rodriguez’s statements on the witness stand.
She said she could not remember if Rodriguez cursed at Quintana, or yelled at him. But she recalled that Rodriguez did “not really” charge toward Quintana: He walked around a basket by the stairs and took a couple of steps up toward the gun, she said.
The question of contradictory witness statements proved to be an important one for attorneys on both sides of the courtroom.
They urged jurors to consider the statements that witnesses made before the trial, and then contrast those comments with the testimonies of those same witnesses in court.
The deputy district attorney alleged the defendant and his older brother gave inconsistent statements regarding the events of that day.
Quintana maintained he did not know Rodriguez, and told authorities that he shot an intruder who broke into his family’s house through a window.
His brother, who appeared in court as a somewhat reluctant witness for the prosecution, initially recounted a similar story.
But Wayne Quintana later testified he merely assumed there had been a break-in, based on the things his brother told him, as well as his limited first-hand observations that night.
During his closing remarks, Loy said the brothers’ “very elaborate” attempt at a cover-up was a clear illustration of Francisco Quintana’s guilt.
“The problem here is that there was no burglary,” Loy said. “There’s an invited guest — invited to do drugs, invited to do a drug deal — whatever the reason.”
In the end, there were several different stories of how Rodriguez and Atencio wound up in Quintana’s bedroom, but co-defense counsel Martinez dismissed those conflicting accounts as “much ado about nothing.”
Whatever happened in the bedroom is the real catalyst for what happened on the stairway, he said.
Quintana felt threatened by Rodriguez’s behavior, Martinez said, so the young man repeatedly asked him to leave. Yet Rodriguez stayed put.
“As a guest, you can overstay your welcome,” Martinez said.
Rodriguez, however, said he would have handled the situation differently.
“I would have never picked the gun up,” he said.
And then, he turned and spoke directly to the jurors:
“If you guys are going to fault him on anything, it should be his decision to pick the gun up.”
Quintana was ultimately remanded back to the custody of the Conejos County Sheriff’s Office. His next appearance in front of Twelfth Judicial District Judge Michael Gonzales is set for Thursday, April 4, when he is scheduled to be sentenced.