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Las Cruces DA ‘shocked’ by dismissal of Tai Chan case

District Attorney Mark D’Antonio

SANTA FE – The Las Cruces district attorney says he is “shocked and dismayed” that a special prosecutor dismissed the criminal case 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.

“This was never even brought to me as an option by the prosecutor in the case, whom I trusted,” said District Attorney Mark D’Antonio. “So I was surprised when I got the information.”

D’Antonio said he will have an answer on “resolving the situation” within the next five days.

Chan, 31, has been tried twice for murder in the death of 29-year-old deputy Jeremy Martin in 2014. The two Santa Fe County deputies were staying in Las Cruces on their way back from delivering a prisoner to Arizona.

Both trials ended in mistrials after juries couldn’t reach unanimous verdicts.

Former Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputy Tai Chan waits in the courtroom for his trial to begin in Las Cruces in 2016. (Andres Leighton/For the Albuquerque Journal)

Late last year, D’Antonio appointed two lawyers from the fraud division of the state Office of the Superintendent of Insurance as special prosecutors to take over the case. After the two mistrials, he said, “fresh eyes” would help.

On Wednesday, Troy J. Davis, one of the special prosecutors, dismissed the case. In his court filing, Davis said Chan “possibly needs to be re-indicted for Voluntary Manslaughter with a firearm enhancement.”

“Re-indictment of charges will cure any issues raised by the defense,” the filing said.

The dismissal ended Davis’ role in the case, and it would be up to D’Antonio’s office to seek a new indictment against Chan.

“We are reviewing the law, reviewing the action, or should I say inaction, of the prosecutor in the case,” D’Antonio said Friday.

“This situation is very serious,” he add. “This case has been important to me and my office since the inception, and we’re doing our best to do what’s right and just.”

Davis said Friday that, as special prosecutor, “it was clear from the beginning that it was my decision” on how to handle the case. “And I made that decision,” he said.

Davis said that D’Antonio’s office in fact was consulted about the possibility of dismissing the case and that Chan could be re-indicted.

Jeremy Martin

Before Martin’s death, the two deputies argued and drank heavily at a bar the night of Oct. 24, 2014, 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 was the aggressor in the struggle were disputed at trial. Chan maintains shooting Martin was in self-defense.

Sarah Martin, deputy Martin’s widow, told the Journal Friday, “We teach our children that there are consequences for your actions, though through a fractured system Chan may have no consequences for his heinous and malicious crime.”

The case against Chan took a blow in May, when District Court Judge Conrad Perea ruled against further prosecution of Chan for murder on double jeopardy grounds. Perea found that another judge who presided over Chan’s second trial had failed to poll jurors to clear up questions about their impasse on a range of charges from first-degree murder to manslaughter.

Chan’s attorney recently filed a motion calling for dismissal, saying the only existing indictment of Chan was for first-degree murder. Because the judge ruled against trying Chan again for murder, and there is no existing document that charges Chan with any other crime, the case against Chan should be dismissed definitively, particularly given the two mistrials, the motion said.

Davis says dismissal and then re-indictment of Chan for manslaughter cures legal defects brought up in the defense motion.