Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
For the first time since 17-year-old Jaydon Chavez-Silver was hit in the neck by a bullet not intended for him, eyewitnesses to the June 2015 drive-by shooting are expected to testify in court, starting this week.
A trial for Esias Madrid, 19, the final suspect in the homicide, is scheduled to begin today in 2nd Judicial District Court.
It may be the final chapter in a convoluted criminal case that made headlines over controversial arrests, the resignation of a state legislator, allegations of police coercion, recanted statements, a 911 dispatcher’s hang-up and two ongoing civil lawsuits.
Albuquerque police made their first arrests more than a month after the shooting – and two of those arrests are now the subject of a civil rights lawsuit alleging the lead detective manufactured the case against them.
Prosecutors believe the shooting was intended as retribution against a man who lived at a home on Nakomis Drive NE, where Chavez-Silver was hanging out with friends on June 26, 2015. According to prosecutors and court documents, Dominic Conyers had been beaten up at the home a month before, and he, Nicholas Gonzales and Madrid hatched a plan for retaliation.
But charges against Madrid and Conyers would come many months into APD’s sprawling investigation into the death of the Manzano High School football player, who had just been accepted into the Air Force Academy.
Witnesses described hearing shots ring out moments before Chavez-Silver fell to the floor and shouted that he’d been shot.
Weeks after the drive-by, police said social media posts and “concerned citizens” led them to the men they first believed were the shooters: Christopher Cruz and Donovan Maez.
Maez’s mother, Stephanie Maez, then an appointed state representative hoping to be elected to the post, resigned soon after to deal with her son’s arrest.
While Maez and Cruz sat in jail for nearly 10 months, the cases against them unraveled.
At a hearing in May 2016, Maez’s attorney said that every witness had “totally and completely” recanted. In June 2016, prosecutors dismissed their cases and said proceeding with the charges was not in the best interest of justice.
Maez’s defense attorney said the investigation was “beyond incompetent,” riddled with witness intimidation. He said that no evidence linked the two to the shooting and that witnesses said they were bullied and fed information by police.
Cruz’s defense attorney said the investigation was the worst he’d ever seen and that the detective never bothered to check out the duo’s alibi.
While Cruz was locked up, his brother died. He was not allowed a furlough to attend the funeral because of the seriousness of the charges.
Two months after the cases against Cruz and Maez were dropped, police charged a new suspect – Esias Madrid.
Gonzales, who’d been arrested soon after Cruz and Maez, took a plea agreement in July 2016 that required him to offer statements to police. And, in his statements, he said that Conyers concocted the plan and that he and Madrid fired.
According to detectives, Gonzales said he’d had his GPS monitor removed the day of the shooting. Afterward, he, Madrid and Madrid’s girlfriend went swimming and drinking before meeting up with Conyers and another man.
According to court documents, Gonzales said he was high when he drove the group to the home on Nakomis. He, Conyers and Madrid got out, peeked through the windows, saw the “dude who jumped Dominic” inside, and got back in the car.
They rolled down the windows on the passenger side of the car, Gonzales said, and he and Madrid opened fire. Though Conyers did not have a gun, Gonzales said, the shooting was his idea.
When Madrid was finally charged in the Chavez-Silver case, he was already in custody on allegations that he shot and killed 18-year-old Arturo Villa during a fight over a lost bet during a game of beer pong in December 2015 – six months after Chavez-Silver was killed. He is serving a 16-year-sentence in that case.
Both Conyers and Gonzales have since pleaded guilty and were sentenced for their roles in the Chavez-Silver shooting.
Conyers, now 21, was sentenced to 12 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to charges, including conspiracy to commit murder.
Gonzales, then a juvenile, was sentenced to a year in custody after pleading guilty to shooting at a dwelling. He is expected to testify at Madrid’s trial, as are two others who said they were in the car that night.
At his trial before Judge Jacqueline Flores, Madrid is facing charges including first-degree murder, shooting at a dwelling, shooting from a vehicle, conspiracy and unlawful carrying of a handgun by a person under age 19.