Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – A judge has dismissed first- and second-degree murder charges against Tai Chan, the former Santa Fe County deputy accused of the shooting death of a fellow deputy at a Las Cruces hotel in 2014.
Defense attorney John Day said in a telephone interview that the most serious charge that can now be brought against Chan is voluntary manslaughter.
Chan, 31, has been tried twice for the death of 29-year-old Deputy Jeremy Martin on Oct. 24, 2014, while the deputies were staying in Las Cruces on their way back from delivering a prisoner to Arizona.
Both attempts ended in mistrial after juries couldn’t reach unanimous verdicts. A new trial for Chan is scheduled for Aug. 27.
Day said District Court Judge Conrad Perea ruled against further prosecution of Chan for the murder counts on double jeopardy grounds. Day said Perea found that another judge who presided over Chan’s second trial last year had failed to poll the jurors to clear up questions about their impasse on a range of charges from murder to manslaughter.
“From our perspective, it’s a huge win,” said Day of the murder charges now being off the table.
“It’s been a long three and a half years, basically, for Tai,” said Day. “But we’ve always said this was not a murder case; this was self-defense. The district attorney overcharged from the start.”
Las Cruces District Attorney Mark D’Antonio, after the two mistrials, appointed attorneys from the state Office of the Superintendent of Insurance to take over the case. Neither of those special prosecutors, Devin Chapman and Troy Davis, could be reached for comment Thursday.
Martin’s family has been disappointed before in the drawn-out case.
After last year’s second mistrial, Martin’s widow, Sarah Martin, said, “My husband was stolen. He doesn’t get to come and tell his side of the story. He was taken from us, but his life matters. His life matters.”
She has sued Chan and the bar that served drinks to the two deputies the night Martin was shot to death.
In the hours before Martin’s death, the two deputies argued amid heavy drinking at the bar, then returned to their room at the Hotel Encanto.
Martin died after being shot five times in the back and arm.
Ten shots were fired from Chan’s duty weapon. But who shot the gun first and who initially acted as the aggressor in a struggle inside the hotel room were argued extensively by the prosecution and defense.
Perea’s ruling Thursday was in response to a defense motion that cites New Mexico court rules and a state Supreme Court decision in attacking then-Judge Fernando Macias’ failure to poll the jury at the end of the second Chan trial last year.
The Supreme Court has held that “if a judge fails to clearly establish on the record the offense(s) on which the jury was deadlocked, all but the lowest offense must be dismissed and the dismissed offenses cannot be retried.”
The lowest remaining offense for Chan, after Thursdays’ ruling by Perea, is voluntary manslaughter.
The 2017 Chan jury reported to Macias that five jurors voted for conviction on second-degree murder, one voted for voluntary manslaughter and six voted not guilty, with no votes for a first-degree murder conviction.
There was discussion back and forth between the judge and defense attorneys about what that tally meant and whether Chan had been acquitted of first-degree murder. The defense wanted a separate jury tally on each charge – first-degree murder, second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.
The defense maintained that Macias failed to follow court rules and the Supreme Court precedent because he “did not ascertain the split between not guilty votes per charge, and instead lumped all ‘not guilty’ votes into one.”
“There was never a clear record made as to the final poll of jurors on the guilty/not guilty breakdown on each count,” the motion stated.