Levi Chavez's alibi on trial - Albuquerque Journal

Levi Chavez’s alibi on trial

Former Albuquerque police officer Deborah Romero takes the witness stand during the murder trial of former Albuquerque police officer Levi Chavez. Chavez is accused of killing his wife and making it look like a suicide. Levi Chavez claims he was at Deborah Romero's home at the time his wife died. (KOAT-TV)
Former Albuquerque police officer Deborah Romero takes the witness stand during the murder trial of former Albuquerque police officer Levi Chavez. Chavez is accused of killing his wife and making it look like a suicide. Levi Chavez claims he was at Deborah Romero’s home at the time his wife died. (KOAT-TV)

BERNALILLO – Testimony in the Levi Chavez murder trial Wednesday honed in on the former APD officer’s alibi – a claim that he was at a girlfriend’s house when his wife died of a gunshot wound to the mouth.

Chavez has maintained he discovered his wife’s body in their Los Lunas home around 9 p.m. on Oct. 21, 2007. He told a 911 operator that she appeared to have been dead “at least a day.”

Chavez’s version of events is that he spent Friday night, Oct. 19, at Deborah Romero’s home in Albuquerque and then worked on Saturday, Oct. 20, from 2 p.m. to midnight, before going back to Romero’s house.

He told investigators that he hadn’t been to his home since earlier that Friday.

Defense attorney David Serna tried repeatedly Wednesday to pin Romero to a specific time that Chavez arrived at her home on Oct. 21.

And every time, Romero’s answer was essentially the same.

“I don’t know what time he got there,” said Romero, who was testifying on the eighth day of Chavez’s murder trial in Sandoval County District Court.

Once, in response to an attempt by Serna to suggest Romero has maintained for nearly six years that Chavez couldn’t have arrived any later than 1 a.m., Romero said: “You’re kind of twisting that around. Please don’t try to twist it and turn it. I don’t know what time he got there.”

Chavez, a former Albuquerque police officer, is charged with killing his 26-year-old wife, Tera Chavez, with his department-issued handgun in the couple’s home near Los Lunas and making it look like a suicide.

If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Levi Chavez and Serna maintain Tera was depressed about her failing marriage, which was collapsing in part because of Levi’s affairs, and that she killed herself.

One of those affairs was with Romero, who also was an APD officer in October 2007.

Romero testified Wednesday that Levi Chavez told her he was “going through a divorce” when she began dating him and that “he was not a married man.”

“Otherwise, I would not have been in that relationship,” Romero said, after having testified earlier through tears that “this whole thing was just so disgusting and such a disgrace – that made me upset, and I’m upset now.”

Serna hammered away at Romero about previous statements she made to Valencia County Sheriff’s detectives and to Serna himself during a pre-trial interview in April.

During those interviews, Romero answered “yes” to questions about whether Levi Chavez had arrived at her home in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights around 1 a.m. She also answered “yes” to a statement Serna made in the April interview that Chavez couldn’t have arrived as late as 3 a.m.

But during questioning by prosecutor Bryan McKay, it came out that Romero also had said, “I don’t know what time he got here; that’s the bottom line” during both interviews.

Detective’s theory

Defense attorney David Serna, left,  and Levi Chavez at Chavez's murder trial at the Sandoval County District Courthouse on Wednesday, June 19, 2013. Chavez, a former Albuquerque police officer, is accused of killing his 26-year-old wife, Tera Chavez, with his department-issued gun in the couple's home near Los Lunas in 2007 and staging the scene as a suicide.
Defense attorney David Serna, left, and Levi Chavez at Chavez’s murder trial at the Sandoval County District Courthouse on Wednesday, June 19, 2013. Chavez, a former Albuquerque police officer, is accused of killing his 26-year-old wife, Tera Chavez, with his department-issued gun in the couple’s home near Los Lunas in 2007 and staging the scene as a suicide.

Serna pointed to a theory of Aaron Jones, the lead detective, that Levi Chavez had picked Romero and groomed her for more than a month to be his alibi.

Romero said from the witness stand that, in the aftermath of Tera Chavez’s death, she didn’t believe anything was amiss about the case.

“Everything was OK up until I spoke with the detectives,” she said.

Serna said Jones had “poisoned (Romero’s) mind” by disclosing details of his investigation and telling Romero that Levi Chavez had been sleeping with numerous women.

Serna pointed out that Romero has said in previous interviews that Levi Chavez was acting “normal” when the two spent the day of Oct. 21 together prior to Chavez driving to Los Lunas, finding Tera Chavez and calling 911.

“I had known the guy for like less than three months,” Romero said on the witness stand. “The time was brief. So what I saw, I knew as normal. … After that interview with the detectives, who knows? Not knowing then what I didn’t know, with everything that was going on – all the corruption, the lies, the cheating – who knows?”

Tera’s father testifies

Joseph Cordova holds up a photo of his daughter Tera Chavez during the murder trial of her husband, former APD officer Levi Chavez, on Wednesday, June 19, 2013. Levi Chavez is accused of killing Tera Chavez in October 2007 and making it look like a suicide.
Joseph Cordova holds up a photo of his daughter Tera Chavez during the murder trial of her husband, former APD officer Levi Chavez, on Wednesday, June 19, 2013. Levi Chavez is accused of killing Tera Chavez in October 2007 and making it look like a suicide.

Earlier Wednesday, Joseph Cordova, Tera Chavez’s father, gave more than two hours of emotional testimony.

Two days after getting the knock on his door that every parent dreads, Cordova went to his daughter’s home to pick out a dress for her funeral, he said from the witness stand.

What he found when he arrived shocked him.

“There were boxes everywhere. Everything was packed – like she didn’t exist,” Cordova said through tears and clenched teeth.

“There were no clothes in the closet to put her in,” Cordova testified on direct examination by Assistant District Attorney Anne Keener. “We ended up having to buy her clothes. … Who does that?”

His trip to the home that Tera shared with Levi had been preceded by a call from his then-son-in-law inviting Cordova to pick out funeral clothes for his daughter.

Earlier, Cordova received a visit, which he had requested, from Levi accompanied by his father and brother.

“I wanted to talk to him, to ask him what happened to Tera,” Cordova testified.

Levi Chavez sat on a love seat in the Cordovas’ home, according to Joseph Cordova’s testimony, between his father and brother.

“He leaned back and said: ‘I no longer have tears for your daughter,’ ” Cordova said. “He said: ‘You’re going to have to face the fact that Tera did this to herself. This will be over in a week.’ ”

“I said: ‘What will be over in a week?’ ” he continued. “He said: ‘This mess.’ A ‘mess,’ that’s what he called it.”

Cordova testified he never believed that his daughter killed herself.

He described his daughter as a woman making plans to move on with her life, not someone in the throes of depression. And he testified about the last time he saw his daughter, two days before she was found dead. He and his wife had dropped their grandchildren off at Tera’s home.

“She came to the window,” he said, pausing to steady himself. “She blew me a kiss. She gave me the two thumbs up.”

Cordova’s last conversation with Levi Chavez, which took place by telephone a few weeks after Tera’s death, also came up during testimony.

Levi told Cordova he had heard Cordova was pushing a homicide investigation, according to Cordova’s testimony.

Cordova testified that he became frustrated with the slow pace of the investigation into his daughter’s death.

“I just felt that this was being covered up,” Cordova said, adding that he had conversations with many of the people who have become witnesses in the murder case, and filed a civil lawsuit against Levi and APD. “I was not going to allow this to be swept under anyone’s rug. I did what any other parent would do: I was the squeaky wheel.”

The trial is expected to resume Friday.

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