Albuquerque man sentenced to 26 years in 2020 ‘revenge’ shooting death


Steven Candelaria listens to testimony at his trial last year. A judge sentenced him Friday to 26 years in prison. (Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)

A judge sentenced Steven Candelaria to 26 years in prison Friday, rejecting his claim that he fired a fatal gunshot in self defense during a 2020 dispute.

A jury found Candelaria, 31, guilty in November of second-degree murder and other charges in the shooting death of Luciano Montoya Jr., 39.

Candelaria and his brother arrived at Montoya's apartment seeking revenge for an earlier beating, prosecutors told jurors during his trial.

Candelaria also pistol-whipped a woman before the brothers fired more than a dozen gunshots at Montoya's apartment, prosecutors said. One of those gunshots fatally injured Montoya.

Second Judicial District Judge Lucy Solimon told Candelaria on Friday that jurors rejected his claim that Montoya fired the first shot.

"I know you are still maintaining your innocence, but you have 12 people who did not believe you and convicted you with respect to some of the crimes," Solimon said.

Candelaria went to Montoya's home armed with a firearm with the intention "to do something," she said.

"Perhaps it went down not the way you expected, but it did go down," Solimon said. "And the jury does not believe that it was self defense."

Candelaria apologized to members of Montoya's family shortly before he was sentenced.

"I tried to accept responsibility as best I can," Candelaria said. "But in my heart, I feel that is not all my fault and I'm not the person the state is trying to make me out to be."

Candelaria's girlfriend, Raquel Martinez-Chavez, testified at trial that Candelaria struck her the night before the homicide.

That beating prompted Martinez-Chavez to move out of Candelaria's home and seek help from Montoya, with whom she had two children, she said.

Martinez-Chavez also had a son with Candelaria, she testified. Jurors also convicted Candelaria of child abuse because his son was in Montoya's apartment at the time of the shooting.

On Nov. 17, 2020, Candelaria and his brother armed themselves and drove to Montoya's apartment in the 1100 block of Louisiana SE, just north of Gibson.

Candelaria's brother, Brandon Candelaria, 28, faces charges including first-degree murder in the same incident. His trial is scheduled in June.

Martinez-Chavez told jurors that Candelaria approached her outside the apartment and struck her in the forehead with a pistol. Gunfire rang out moments later, she said.

Candelaria's attorney, Stephen Lane, told jurors that Montoya emerged from his apartment and fired gunshots, initiating a gunfight that fatally wounded Montoya. The Candelaria brothers returned fire in self-defense, Lane said.

Solimon said Friday that Montoya had a right to defend Martinez-Chavez when she was attacked.

"I think what happened is that (Montoya) saw you beating up on Raquel and came out to assist," Solimon said. "And he's allowed to assist someone who is getting basically pistol whipped and she was loud and needing help."

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