Login for full access to ABQJournal.com



New Users: Subscribe here


Close

Chavez trial: Day 2 wrap-up

Levi Chavez stands up during a break in his murder trial at the Sandoval County Judicial Complex on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. (Marla Brose/Journal)
Levi Chavez stands up during a break in his murder trial at the Sandoval County Judicial Complex on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. (Marla Brose/Journal)
........................................................................................................................................................................................
Lt. John Gordon testifies in the Sandoval County Judicial Complex for Levi Chavez's murder trial Bernalillo, N.M., Tuesday, June 11, 2013. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

VCSO Lt. John Gordon testifies during the Levi Chavez murder trial at the Sandoval County Judicial Complex on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Gordon was questioned about a bloody piece of bedding that an APD officer cut from the bed where Tera Chavez’s body had been laying. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

6:45 p.m.

BERNALILLO—Levi Chavez was hesitant about Valencia County Sheriff’s investigators contacting his superiors at the Albuquerque Police Department, and he didn’t want them to call the family of his wife to the couple’s home near Los Lunas after he had made a frantic 911 call to say she had fatally shot herself.

Tera Chavez had died in October 2007 from a single gunshot wound to the mouth.

The bullet hadn’t come from just any gun; it had been fired from her husband’s APD-issued Glock 9 mm handgun.

Those were some of the “flags” that led then-VCSO Sgt. John Gordon, who is now a lieutenant, and other detectives to expand their investigation of Tera’s death beyond her husband’s theory of suicide, Gordon said from the witness stand during the second day of testimony in Levi Chavez’s murder trial in Sandoval County District Court.

Levi Chavez is on trial for first-degree murder and evidence tampering. He was indicted on those charges in April 2011 after a three-and-a-half-year investigation by law enforcement officers who initially believed his story about his wife killing herself.

Also on Tuesday, prosecutors admitted into evidence what Chavez’s attorney, David Serna, has called two suicide notes.

“I’m sorry, Levi,” reads one of the notes, which was written on a page in a notebook investigators found on a table next to the bed where Tera Chavez’s body was lying.

The other note, which investigators from VCSO taped back together after finding it ripped up in a bathroom trash can, reads: “I’m so sorry. All I wanted was your love. I’m sorry I wasn’t good enough for you. I hope you’ll be happy now. I always loved you all of you so much.”

Serna said during his opening statement Monday that handwriting experts will testify that Tera Chavez wrote the notes. He has cited them as evidence of suicide.

Prosecutors have raised doubt about the notes, arguing that they don’t point to suicide when considered in the larger context of the Chavezes’ relationship. Their marriage was eroding due to infidelity and, by the time Tera Chavez died, the two were estranged.

After testifying about his role in collecting evidence at the home, Gordon described one of the more controversial events of the entire case.

Levi Chavez’s APD lieutenant, Shawn O’Connell, and another APD officer, Rick Ingram, had responded to the home after receiving a call from VCSO.

As Gordon and others from VCSO were “clearing the scene,” O’Connell asked “what I thought of the idea of them removing some of the bloody things” from the home, Gordon said after questions from prosecutor Bryan McKay.

“I asked why, and they said so the family wouldn’t have to see it,” he said. “It was done out of compassion.”

With Gordon’s permission and under his supervision, O’Connell borrowed a knife from Ingram and cut a piece of bedding from where Tera Chavez’s body had been laying shortly before that contained a 2- or 3-inch swipe of blood that was on the opposite side of the bed from where her body had been removed and more than a foot away from where the blood from the gunshot wound to her head had pooled.

Gordon said the staff from an area funeral home took the bloody bedding from the scene, and that O’Connell’s actions weren’t meant to “taint anything.”

McKay asked whether Gordon would give the OK for cutting up the bedding if he had it to do over again. But Gordon didn’t get the chance to answer, because state District Judge George P. Eichwald sustained an objection from Serna on the grounds that it called for Gordon to speculate.

Levi Chavez articulated his aversion to others coming to the home during an interview with Gordon and Detective Aaron Jones, who is expected to testify today. Jurors heard a recording of that interview, which lasted more than 30 minutes, in court on Tuesday.

Chavez was at times hysterical during the interview, moaning and crying as he told the investigators his wife had threatened suicide many times before.

The former APD officer was emotional in court Tuesday as the recording was played, as he had been on Monday when photographs of his wife’s body were shown in court. His tears have marked a departure from his demeanor during court proceedings during the past two-plus years, which has typically been calm and confident.

Chavez used the f-word dozens of times during the interview, which began with a reading of his Miranda rights.

“She made so many threats” about killing herself, he told the investigators, “to the point where I just don’t want to (expletive) hear it no more … It (expletive) takes balls to (expletive) shoot yourself. I didn’t think she had it in her.”

After playing the recording, Gordon testified that he left the Chavezes’ home that night believing Tera had killed herself.

That was the same conclusion reached by Patricia Garcia-Sais, the rookie field investigator for the state Office of the Medical Investigator, who testified Tuesday that she listed in her initial report “suicide” as the manner of death for Tera Chavez.

There was nothing at the home that was inconsistent with suicide, Garcia-Sais said under questioning by prosecutor Anne Keener.

Serna cross examined Garcia-Sais and asked her several questions about why she took only one photograph of Tera Chavez’s mouth — and a “blurry” one at that.

“I don’t know,” she said to Serna, adding that had she seen the low-quality photo of Tera Chavez’s mouth, she would’ve taken another.


 

1:15 p.m.

Rookie medical investigator Patricia Garcia-Sais testified this morning that she listed in her initial report “suicide” as the manner of death for Tera Chavez.

There was nothing at the home in a rural area near Los Lunas that Chavez had shared with her husband that was inconsistent with suicide, Garcia-Sais said under questioning by prosecutor Anne Keener.

Levi Chavez’s defense attorney cross examined Garcia-Sais and asked her several questions about why she took only one photograph of Tera Chavez’s mouth — and a “blurry” one at that.

The gunshot that killed the 26-year-old had gone from her husband’s APD-issued handgun into her mouth. There was no exit wound, Garcia-Sais said from the witness stand.

“I don’t know,” she said to Serna, adding that had she seen the low-quality photo of Tera Chavez’s mouth, she would’ve taken another.

On the witness stand this afternoon is Valencia County Sheriff’s Lt. John Gordon, who has overseen numerous aspects of the investigation of Tera Chavez’s death.

Gordon was among the first law enforcement officers on scene after Levi Chavez called 911 to report that his wife had shot herself in the head.

He and VCSO Det. Aaron Jones taped an interview with Levi Chavez after reading him his Miranda rights.

When court goes back into session this afternoon, jurors will hear a recording of that interview.

————————–

11:20 a.m.

BERNALILLO–Prosecutors began the second day of the murder trial against former Albuquerque police officer Levi Chavez this morning where they left off the first: admitting items, many of them collected from Chavez’s Los Lunas home where he allegedly killed his wife in 2007, into evidence.

Among the items Dee Hall, who was a rookie evidence technician when she went to the Chavez’s home on Oct. 21, 2007, removed from evidence bags and showed to jurors were what Chavez’s defense attorney has called two suicide notes.

“I’m sorry, Levi,” reads one of the notes, which was written on a page in a notebook investigators found on a table next to the bed where Tera Chavez’s body was lying.

The other note, which investigators from VCSO taped back together after finding it ripped up in a bathroom trash can, reads: “I’m so sorry. All I wanted was your love. I’m sorry I wasn’t good enough for you. I hope you’ll be happy now. I always loved you all of you so much.”

Levi’s attorney, David Serna, said during his opening statement yesterday that handwriting experts have determined Tera Chavez wrote the notes.

Also admitted into evidence this morning were: three cellphones owned by the Chavezes, bullets from the APD-issued Glock 9 mm handgun that was used to kill Tera Chavez and other items.

On the witness stand now is Patricia Garcia-Sais, who was the Office of the Medical Investigator field investigator who went to the Chavezes’ home the night Tera’s body was found.

Just before state District Judge George P. Eichwald called a short morning recess, Garcia-Sais testified that she had begun to form an opinion at the scene that Tera Chavez had committed suicide.

Like Hall, Garcia-Sais was a rookie in October 2007. Tera Chavez’s death was the first she had worked as an investigator by herself that was more complicated than an “unattended death.”

Levi Chavez is charged with first-degree murder and evidence tampering. He could face life in prison, but not the death penalty, if convicted.

He had pleaded not guilty.

I’ll update this story during the lunch break in a few hours.


The story below first appeared on the front page of the Albuquerque Journal of Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The ‘perfect murder’ or suicide by a ‘needy’ wife?

 

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

BERNALILLO – Prosecutor Bryan McKay on Monday told jurors that former Albuquerque police officer Levi Chavez nearly pulled off the “perfect murder – one in which people are convinced it’s not a murder” when he killed his wife in 2007 and tried to make it look like a suicide.

But little by little, during a four-year investigation, authorities conducted enough interviews and examined enough shreds of physical evidence to show that Tera Chavez did not kill herself, McKay said during his hour-long opening statement in Sandoval County District Court.

Pictured is the gun in question as presented by the state to the jury during opening statements in the Levi Chavez(Cq)trial in which he is being  accused of murdering his wife. Rio Rancho, New Mexico.  (Albuquerque Journal)

Pictured is the gun in question as presented by the state to the jury during opening statements in the Levi Chavez(Cq)trial in which he is being accused of murdering his wife.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico. (Albuquerque Journal)

Defendant Levi Chavez weeps as he hears the initial 911 call when he found his wife dead on a bed during his trial  on opening day Monday morning at the Sandoval County Judicial Complex.

Defendant Levi Chavez weeps as he hears the initial 911 call when he found his wife dead on a bed during his trial on opening day Monday morning at the Sandoval County Judicial Complex.

He painted a picture of a marriage that was failing because of infidelity and distrust that reached an apex in the weeks before Tera’s death when she let slip to one of her husband’s paramours that she believed he and his fellow police officers had pulled an insurance scam with Levi’s truck.

Defense attorney David Serna offered a sharply different version of the events and life circumstances that led up to Valencia County Sheriff’s investigators arriving at the couple’s home in the Las Maravillas subdivision near Los Lunas to find Levi Chavez weeping beside a bed that held his wife’s dead body.

During his 90-minute opening statement, Serna described Tera Chavez as a “needy person” who was “very sad and depressed over the state of the marriage and Levi’s multiple affairs.”

Serna mentioned four women, three of them fellow police officers, with whom Levi Chavez was cheating on Tera around the time of her death.

Levi Chavez is on trial for first-degree murder and evidence tampering. Prosecutors say he shot his wife once through the mouth with his APD-issued 9 mm handgun and tried to make it look like a suicide.

With state District Judge George P. Eichwald presiding and a jury of 14 women and four men – six of whom are serving as alternates – watching, McKay had the first word in one of the most anticipated criminal trials in recent New Mexico memory.

But Chavez maintains it was a suicide and has pleaded innocent.

As part of his opening statement, Serna launched into several lengthy attacks against the credibility of then-Valencia County Sheriff’s Detective Aaron Jones, who was among the first deputies to arrive at the Chavezes’ home on Oct. 21, 2007, after Levi called 911 to say his wife had killed herself.

After initially supporting Levi Chavez’s story about a suicide, Jones, who is expected to testify Wednesday, began to have doubts. He eventually labeled Levi as a suspect and he became the lead detective in the homicide investigation.

Serna told the jury that Jones tried to bias potential witnesses against Levi Chavez – and that Jones broke with common police practices in doing so.

“Aaron Jones is a dirty, dishonest police officer,” Serna said.

Earlier in his opening statement, Serna had described Jones and other VCSO personnel who went to the Chavez home as “very experienced officers.”

The trial is expected to last four to six weeks.

Levi Chavez was fired from APD after he was indicted in April 2011.

‘How could she do this to us?’

After opening statements, McKay played a recording of Levi Chavez’s call to Valencia County 911 dispatchers in which Chavez reported that his wife had shot herself “in the head.”

For the nine minutes of the call, he could be heard sobbing, moaning and saying multiple times: “How could she do this to us?”

The couple had two children.

The dispatcher asked Chavez if he was willing to attempt CPR on his wife. He said he couldn’t and added that it appeared she had been dead at least a day.

Also on Monday, McKay admitted into evidence more than 100 photographs taken at the Chavez home after detectives arrived. The photographer, Dee Hall, was working her first-ever crime scene as an evidence technician for the Sheriff’s Office.

Many of the photos shown in court Monday showed Tera Chavez’s dead body. Levi Chavez placed his head in his hand as some of them appeared on monitors and Serna comforted his client with a hand on his back.

Jurors could be seen leaning toward screens in the jury box to get a better look at some of the photos.

Also admitted into evidence was a laptop computer taken from the Chavezes’ home.

On it, according to a computer expert McKay said he plans to put on the witness stand, were searches in late 2006 for “how to kill someone.” The searches, McKay said, coincided with an incident in which Tera Chavez had confronted one of Levi’s girlfriends.

McKay provided no revelations in his opening statement.

According to his theory, which has been the subject of scores of news accounts, the Chavezes’ marriage was crumbling due to infidelity and financial woes, and their problems were exacerbated when it appeared Tera Chavez was having second thoughts about an alleged insurance scam she had participated in with her husband.

“It all comes together on that weekend,” McKay said of the October 2007 weekend when Tera died. “Levi comes home, puts (his APD-issued) gun – that he had with him – into Tera’s mouth and pulls the trigger. … This was not a suicide, because the defendant killed his wife.”

Serna’s portrait of a distraught Levi Chavez and a “pestering” Tera Chavez whom he said called and texted her husband 315 times during the weekend of her death has been relatively unknown until Monday.

That’s because Serna has been sparse with details about his defense in public statements and in court filings.

The courtroom was mostly full Monday. Among those in the gallery were Levi Chavez Sr., who has accompanied his son to nearly every court hearing since the younger Levi Chavez was indicted in April 2011.

Tera Chavez’s parents, Joseph and Theresa Cordova, also were at the courthouse Monday morning. Joseph, who is expected to testify, did not sit in the courtroom for opening statements.

The Cordovas have been mainstays in court throughout the case, as well. And they are suing Levi Chavez separately in a civil wrongful death case.

Top
Read previous post:
Mounting controversies are all about trust

WASHINGTON – As a candidate, Barack Obama vowed to bring a different, better kind of leaders ...

Close