Police: Love triangle tiff leads to theater shooting
FARGO - Testimony from a detective and questions from a defense attorney shed additional light Thursday on what they believe prompted an accused gunman to open fire in a movie theater parking lot here on June 5, leaving one victim with seven gunshot wounds.
During a preliminary hearing in Cass County District Court, Defense attorney Steven Mottinger contested the charges against 44-year-old Felipe Estrada of Dilworth, forcing the prosecution to call Fargo Police Detective Paul Holte to establish probable cause for the charges.
After the testimony, Judge Wade Webb found there was probable cause, and Estrada pleaded not guilty to attempted murder, aggravated assault and two counts of reckless endangerment.
Estrada is accused of shooting Juan Carlos Garza twice in the torso and hitting Charles David Roskom in the head with the butt of a handgun during the incident outside West Acres 14 Cinema.
The reckless endangerment charges stem from shots Estrada allegedly fired at his ex-girlfriend, DeShawn Stodola, as she and Garza, her ex-husband, were running away from Estrada, as well as a shot that entered the movie theater while Sunday matinees were showing.
According to Holte's testimony:
Stodola and Estrada had been dating but broke up within the month before the shooting. One of Stodola's daughters from her previous marriage to Garza had been staying at Estrada's but was unhappy there and decided to go to Stodola's. The mother and daughter then went to a relative's apartment south of the theater.
Estrada showed up at the apartment around 6:30 or 7:30 that morning wanting to talk to Stodola, but she sent him away and said they'd call him later.
Garza later drove to the apartment on his motorcycle with plans to go with Stodola to put gas in the van he was letting her use. As they left the apartment, they saw Estrada's pickup truck, and both vehicles pulled into the theater lot.
Around 4:15 p.m., Garza stepped out and said something to Estrada, who then got out of the pickup with gun in hand and allegedly began shooting.
The first shot went through the windshield of the pickup as Stodola sat inside. She got out and began running with Garza away from Estrada and toward the theater.
Garza was hit by gunfire and dropped to the ground, and Stodola ran into the theater to call authorities.
As Garza lay wounded, Estrada allegedly stood over him and unloaded the rest of his 10-round clip into Garza, who suffered seven gunshot wounds.
Assistant State's Attorney Gary Euren said he hasn't spoken with Garza since about a month after the shooting. At that time, Garza was still recovering, but he isn't believed to have sustained any permanently debilitating injuries, Euren said.
Two of Garza's friends who had followed him to the theater, Charles Roskom and Lamont Nelson, drove up onto the curb, got out and tried to wrestle the gun away from Estrada, who allegedly hit Roskom in the head with the butt of the semiautomatic pistol.
Estrada broke free and fled the scene and was apprehended a short time later at a farmstead near Horace. The pistol believed to have been used in the shooting was recovered from his pickup, Holte said.
Roskom underwent surgery for a fractured skull after the incident. Doctors were unable to repair the damaged portion of his skull and had to replace it with titanium mesh, according to court filings.
A long scar was visible on the left side of Roskom's head Thursday as he appeared in court before Estrada to plead not guilty to felony drug charges.
As a result of the permanent damage to Roskom's skull, Webb granted prosecutors' request to upgrade the aggravated assault charge against Estrada from a Class C felony to a Class B felony, which increases the maximum possible penalty from five years in prison to 10 years.
Estrada faces up to 20 years in prison, and a minimum of four years, if convicted on the Class A attempted murder charge.
On cross-examination by Mottinger, Holte confirmed that Roskom and Nelson's statements changed over several interviews and that they'd been asked to be on the lookout for Estrada's pickup.
Holte also confirmed that Garza told Estrada, "I'm going to 'f' you up," before Estrada got out of the pickup and allegedly began firing.
Asked if Garza had ever threatened Estrada in the past, Holte said he was aware of an incident in Dilworth involving text messages but didn't know the details.
Mottinger asked him if there was any reason to believe Estrada was lured to the parking lot.
"I didn't find any evidence to show that," Holte said.
After the hearing, Mottinger said he believes there are inconsistent statements in the case, and he wanted to question Holte in regard to how those statements occurred.
Mottinger said it was too early to talk about potential defenses for Estrada, but based on Thursday's testimony, "I think it's pretty fair to say he was confronted by another individual."
"Our position is that that's what led to the altercation. Whether or not it was justified is going to have to be determined down the road," he said.
Estrada remains in the Cass County Jail on cash-only bail of $500,000.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528