CHEYENNE — A judge dismissed four criminal counts Tuesday against a local woman who allegedly shot and killed her fiancé, citing insufficient evidence.
The dismissal by Laramie County District Judge Thomas Campbell followed an argument by Devon Petersen, an attorney for defendant Danelle Ashley Moyte, that Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove had provided little to no evidence supporting three counts of child abuse with mental injury, or for a charge of aggravated assault and battery with serious bodily injury.
As a result, the jury will not be asked to consider any charges other than second-degree murder.
Moyte, 35, is accused of shooting and killing Christopher 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.
Petersen argued the felony child abuse with mental injury charges should be dismissed because Manlove did not bring in any mental health professionals to testify, no diagnoses were offered, and no testimony was given to tie any mental health issues to this specific case. Manlove argued that she had shown the children were affected by witnessing the shooting incident.
Judge Campbell said it was clear something traumatic had happened to the children, but that no reasonable jury could find mental injury.
For the aggravated assault and battery charge, Moyte was accused of unlawfully causing or attempting to cause serious bodily injury to her niece, identified as A.E. But Petersen argued there was no evidence Moyte caused serious bodily injury or had any intention of harming A.E., which would be required to prove the charge. Campbell agreed.
Manlove had attempted to show through testimony that A.E. was in the path of the bullet fired by Moyte, and that the then-6-year-old could have been hit had the bullet not struck other objects and come to a stop.
The remaining charge, second-degree murder, requires the state prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Moyte “did purposefully and maliciously, but without premeditation, kill” Garcia. The penalty range for this charge is 20 years to life in prison.
The state had rested its case just before defense counsel made its argument for dismissal of the four counts.
There are eight potential witnesses the defense could call, including Moyte.
Highlights from Tuesday’s testimony:
Marshell Rizzuto, Garcia’s younger brother, continued testifying Tuesday morning. He had been called Monday afternoon as a witness for the state.
Based on testimony, Rizzuto may have played a part in Garcia and Moyte’s purchase of a gun. Multiple family members said Monday that Garcia had no interest in guns, with his father adding that Garcia told him Moyte was the one who wanted the gun.
But Rizzuto said in early 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, he was convinced by a friend that, because of goods shortages, owning a gun would be better than not owning a gun.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Petersen said that in testimony to a Laramie County Sheriff’s detective after Garcia’s death, Rizzuto said Garcia agreed with that rationale.
Petersen said Rizzuto had also told the detective that his family members tend to have “a very short temper.” In response, Rizzuto testified that Garcia tended to leave a situation when things escalated, and that he’d never seen Garcia cause physical harm to Moyte, nor express any desire or intention to do so.
Later in the day, Manlove called Kristi Webber, a former neighbor of Moyte’s, to the stand. Webber described two incidents of physical violence she said she witnessed between Garcia and Moyte from her second-floor bedroom window. Both took place late at night in summer 2019, she said.
In the first, Webber said she heard Moyte pleading with someone she called “Chris” to stop. When she looked out the window, she saw what appeared to be Garcia twisting Moyte’s arm behind her, “holding her in a violent manner,” she said.
Webber called out to the couple, saying she would call law enforcement if they didn’t stop.
In response, Webber said, Garcia yelled back: “F– you, b–. Mind your own business.” Webber said she was “ready to call 911,” but Moyte yelled for her not to call law enforcement, and Webber didn’t.
In the second incident, Webber said she was lying in bed when she heard arguing. She went to the window and saw Garcia grab Moyte’s hair and pull her to the ground. Again, Webber said, Moyte was pleading with Garcia to stop.
Webber testified that her husband then went outside with a flashlight, and when the couple heard his footsteps, Moyte went quietly into the house. Garcia told Webber’s husband they were just having an argument. Neither Webber nor her husband called law enforcement following the incident.
The state also continued to call witnesses from the Wyoming State Crime Lab. Leah Innocci, a forensic analyst, described her analysis of blood patterns found in the master bedroom of the Moyte home, including blood on the handle and exterior of a rolling suitcase. Innocci also explained evidence gathered from FARO scans, which create precise 3D measurements of a space.
While cross-examining both Innocci and forensic analyst Kathryn Bacon, Petersen made a similar argument to one brought up previously in the trial: that the only way the bullet could have pierced the master bedroom door at the angle it did would be if Garcia was leaning over Moyte, potentially attacking or about to attack her.
Based on her analysis of the FARO scans, Innocci said she couldn’t necessarily rule out this scenario.
Bacon, a firearms and toolmarks examiner and shooting incident reconstructionist at the crime lab, also analyzed these scans. Because the bullet pierced Garcia’s body before it hit the door, Bacon said she was unable to glean much more information from the door’s bullet hole than that Garcia was standing in front of Moyte when the shot was fired.
Based on her examination of the gun itself, Bacon said it worked the way the manufacturer intended – meaning that if the safety was on, the gun would not fire, and if the safety was off, the gun would fire.
Innocci, a latent print analyst, also testified that it was often difficult to find fingerprints on guns because of their surfaces – rough in some areas to make them easier to grip, and oiled in other places. Previous witnesses testified that the gun used in the shooting had not been tested for fingerprints.