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No verdict after first day of deliberations

BERNALILLO—Jurors could not reach a verdict in the Levi Chavez murder case after eight and a half hours of deliberations and are being sent home for the day.

Attorneys in the case tell that deliberations won’t resume until 1 p.m. tomorrow because one of the jurors has an intractable morning appointment.

The jury did not leave the courthouse today for lunch. Instead, court staff delivered food from Dion’s Pizza to the nine women and three men who are deciding whether Chavez, a former APD officer, killed his wife in 2007 and tried to make it look like a suicide.

Three of the jurors, however, took several smoke breaks ranging from 10 to almost 20 minutes outside the courthouse today.

10:03 a.m.

BERNALILLO—Prosecutors this morning loaded several large boxes of case files into the back of a gray SUV and drove slowly out of the parking lot outside the state District courthouse here.

It was a clear sign that there’s nothing left to say in the murder case of former Albuquerque police officer Levi Chavez.

Now, Senior Trial Attorney Bryan McKay and Assistant District Attorney Anne Keener will wait to listen.

So will attorney David Serna, who is representing Chavez who is accused of killing his 26-year-old wife, Tera Chavez, in the couple’s home near Los Lunas in 2007 and staging her death to make it look like a suicide.

A throng of local reporters and a crew from NBC Dateline also will wait.

As will members of Levi Chavez’s and Tera Chavez’s families, many of whom didn’t miss a minute of testimony or argument in the emotionally charged five-week trial, which began June 10 and ended with dramatic closing arguments on Friday.

The voice everyone will now wait to hear belongs to the jury — nine women and three men — who began deliberating shortly after 8:30 a.m. today.

Those 12 jurors have a tall order.

More than 40 people, including Levi Chavez himself, testified in the trial. It’ll be the jury’s job to determine which ones were credible and which ones weren’t.

Witnesses included:

— A handful of Levi Chavez’s mistresses, some of whom either were APD officers in 2007, or still are, and one of whom offered testimony that directly contradicted Chavez’s story about where he was when, according to his version of events, Tera shot herself.

— Members of Tera’s family, including her father, her younger brother and her twin brother. In contrast to the defense’s picture of a despondent, suicidal Tera Chavez, her blood relatives all testified that she had plans for the future, an abiding dedication to her two children and a burgeoning career. Suicide, they said, would not have been an option for her.

— Nationally recognized experts in crime scene reconstruction and forensic pathology who testified for the defense that evidence they reviewed in the case supported the theory that Tera killed herself. Serna also put a “suicidologist” — who famously determined in the 1990s that President Bill Clinton’s deputy White House counsel Vince Foster committed suicide — to say Tera died by her own hand.

— The controversial ex-Valencia County Sheriff’s detective who investigated Levi Chavez for Tera’s death. Aaron Jones was often combative with Serna on the stand. He was the only witness threatened with contempt of court by state District Judge George P. Eichwald. Jones stood by his investigation under a relentless cross-examination by Serna.

— Two APD officers who went to the Chavez’s home — out of their jurisdiction — after he called 911 around 9 p.m. on Oct. 21, 2007 to report that Tera had shot herself in the head. Addressing longstanding controversy over their involvement at the death scene, the APD officers testified that they cut up a bloody mattress where Tera’s body had been lying with permission from and under the supervision of VCSO officials as a courtesy to the Chavez’s children.

Jurors also will consider more than 300 pieces of evidence. Many of those are crime scene photographs taken by a former VCSO evidence technician, who was working her first-ever crime scene that night in 2007, and by a field investigator for the state Office of the Medical Investigator, who was working her first and only case that night.

Perhaps the most noticeable piece of evidence now sitting in the jury room on the second floor of the courthouse here is the gun that killed Tera Chavez — her husband’s APD-issued Glock 9 mm pistol.

The gun was the subject of days worth of contentious scrutiny and testimony during the trial.

“If there’s a smoking gun in this case, it is” the gun itself, prosecution crime scene and firearms expert Mark Radosevich said from the witness stand.

There’s also a lot the jury didn’t hear — including testimony and evidence that was excluded during bitter pretrial evidentiary hearings.

I’ll keep this post updated if something noteworthy happens while the jury moves along in its deliberations.

For now, the courthouse, which has been abuzz with spectators, family members and members of the news media — not to mention the prosecution and defense teams — is oddly quiet. The parking lot outside is half as full as it has been during the trial.

Other than the three TV live trucks, one would hardly know one of the most-anticipated verdicts in recent New Mexico memory is being formulated inside.