CHEYENNE – The jury trial of a local woman who allegedly shot and killed her fiancé entered its second week Monday, with several family members of Christopher Garcia, the man killed in the shooting, taking the stand to describe him as a good person with no interest in firearms.
Danelle Ashley Moyte is accused of shooting and killing Garcia, 39, after an argument in the early hours of May 16, 2020. Three children, all 13 and younger at the time, were present during the incident.
Moyte, 35, is charged in Laramie County District Court with second-degree murder, aggravated assault and battery with serious bodily injury and three counts of child abuse with mental injury.
Throughout the trial, defense attorneys for Moyte have argued their client shot Garcia in self-defense – the culmination of consistent verbal and physical abuse by Garcia. As of Monday, one witness had testified to a specific incident she witnessed between Moyte and Garcia.
Descriptions of Chris Garcia by multiple members of his family stood in stark contrast with the defense's characterization. They painted a picture of a very present son and brother, who many said they spoke to or spent time with weekly, if not daily.
George Garcia Jr., one of Chris Garcia's younger brothers, described him as "a great man." George Jr. did construction for the same company as his brother, often spending an entire eight-hour day working alongside him.
"He was just everything you wanted in a big brother – someone to look up to," George Jr. said.
As for his relationship with Moyte, Chris' family members described them as "in love," that they seemed to be happy and get along well, and that Moyte was respectful and got along well with the Garcia family.
All testified they'd never known Chris to be verbally or physically abusive – with Moyte, or anyone else.
Chris Garcia's father, George Garcia Sr., said Chris confided in him about two weeks before he was killed that he was unsure about marrying Moyte. George Sr. testified to telling his son that, if he was having these thoughts, he shouldn't go through with the wedding. George Sr. said he didn't know whether Chris ever addressed the subject with Moyte.
Marshell Rizzuto, another of Chris' younger brothers, said that if the couple ever had anything but a "wonderful" relationship, it was because one of them was too intoxicated and they would begin to argue. More often than not, it was Moyte who drank too much, as Chris didn't really like to drink, Rizzuto said.
Robert Troudt, a forensic analyst with the Wyoming State Crime Lab, testified Monday that Moyte's blood-alcohol level at the time it was sampled was 0.028, as compared to the state's 0.08 legal limit for driving. Curtis Burch, who formerly oversaw investigations for the Laramie County Sheriff's Office, testified previously that Moyte's blood sample was taken just before 10:30 a.m. on May 16, 2020 – about nine hours after the shooting.
Troudt said he was unaware whether Chris Garcia's blood had been submitted to the state crime lab for testing.
All of the Garcia family members testified that they'd never known Chris Garcia to have any interest in firearms. Chris' youngest brother had died from a gunshot wound, and no one in the family hunted or went shooting, they said.
George Sr. even said Chris had come to him and told him Moyte wanted to buy a gun, but that he was uneasy about it. George said he told his son he thought it was a bad idea, with Chris having a felony conviction for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, and because several children were living in the home.
This conflicted with prior testimony from Moyte's close friend, who said Moyte told her she was uneasy about purchasing a gun, but that Chris wanted one.
George Sr. and Rizzuto testified that Chris gained a different, more positive outlook on life during his prison sentence. After Chris had served about four or five years, Rizzuto said, he confided in Rizzuto that he recognized the wrong in his past actions and felt immense guilt about involving a friend in his previous criminal activity.
After prison, Chris Garcia was focused on being a better son and a better person, and the best father he could be to his daughter, George Sr. said.
Chris served seven to eight years of his 10-year federal sentence, having been released early for good behavior, Rizzuto said. Chris was also allowed to leave a halfway house he lived in after his release early because he had done so well during his time there, Rizzuto testified.
Rizzuto said Chris Garcia first began staying over at Moyte's home because he was helping take care of her children.
"He honestly treated those children like they were his," he said.
Chris had been living with their mother, Martha Rizzuto, since his release from prison, but after about two or three months of dating Moyte, he moved in with her, several of his family members testified. Over the next two years of their relationship, the Garcia family attended countless events hosted at the home they described as being shared by Moyte and Chris Garcia.
Moyte would occasionally kick Chris out of the home for a few hours or a night, Martha Rizzuto said. When that happened, Chris would stay at his mother's house.
The trial is expected to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday with continued questioning of Marshell Rizzuto by Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove.
Judge questions trial timeline
Laramie County District Judge Thomas Campbell addressed Manlove and Moyte's defense attorneys, Tom Fleener and Devon Petersen, at the end of the day Monday, telling them he was concerned about the number of witnesses each had yet to call.
Having been set for eight days, the trial is scheduled to end after Wednesday. But as of Monday evening, the state reported nine remaining witnesses, while the defense, which has only been allowed one witness so far, has 28 it plans to call.
Campbell is expected to discuss this, among other topics, at a Tuesday morning meeting with counsel before the trial resumes.
The judge also announced Monday morning that a male juror had been excused because of illness. Fourteen people – 13 men and one woman – remain on the jury panel after his departure. Another juror, a woman, was dismissed last week following a prohibited conversation about a news article related to the trial.
Garcia's former girlfriend testifies
Before Garcia's immediate family members testified, Manlove called Chris Garcia's ex-partner and the mother of his child as a witness.
Nicole Garcia – now married to a man also with the last name Garcia, though with no relation to Chris or his family – testified via videoconference because she tested positive for COVID-19 late last week.
When asked by Manlove to describe the roughly four years she dated Chris Garcia, Nicole said it was not a good relationship, and that she was an alcoholic at the time.
In one case, Nicole and Chris had been arguing about visitation with their daughter, and Chris allegedly kicked in the door of her trailer, causing damage.
However, Nicole agreed with a previous statement she'd made to Manlove – that when law enforcement had been involved in an incident between them, "nine times out of 10, (Nicole) was in the wrong." Nicole also described Chris as "calm most of the time," and that he would try to reason with her when she was intoxicated.
The couple broke up in 2007 shortly after their daughter, identified as A.G., was born. When A.G. was 7 years old, she was placed with her maternal grandparents because Nicole was deemed incapable of parenting due to her alcoholism.
Nicole was also asked to testify about A.G.'s mental state following her father's death. A.G., then 13, was at the Moyte residence during the incident, sat with her father after he was shot and called 911.
A.G. was mostly in shock after she learned her father had died, Nicole said – when Chris Garcia was taken from the Moyte home in an ambulance, A.G. believed he would survive. A.G. stayed with her mother and now-stepfather for three weeks after the incident, before returning to live with her grandparents.
A.G.'s grandparents are her legal guardians, but she'd spent summers living with her father and Moyte since Chris was released from prison. She'd also spent weekdays with Nicole while Chris was at work.
Nicole testified that A.G. saw a counselor after her father's death, but that she was otherwise a typical teenager. On cross-examination by Fleener, Nicole said A.G. had also attended counseling for other issues before her father was killed.