BERNALILLO – The nine women and three men who comprised Levi Chavez’s jury scattered immediately after being let out of the Sandoval County Courthouse on Tuesday afternoon, but two stuck around just long enough to lend some insight into their decision to acquit the former police officer of murder charges.
The jurors said there wasn’t enough physical evidence to prove that Levi Chavez killed his wife.
One of the jurors became emotional when talking to reporters about 45 minutes after the ruling.
“The whole situation is just sick,” she said through tears. “No matter what you choose, not everyone is going to be happy.”
She said some jurors cried during the 11 hours of deliberations.
Jurors received the case shortly after 5 p.m. Friday following closing arguments by defense attorney David Serna and prosecutors Anne Keener and Bryan McKay. But they didn’t begin deliberating until Monday because of the late hour.
They deliberated all day Monday and began again at about 1 p.m. Tuesday.
Prosecutors alleged that Chavez killed his wife and staged her death to look like a suicide. The defense has contended that Tera Chavez killed herself.
The female juror said a lot of the jury’s discussion centered around testimony and evidence involving the gun that killed Tera – Levi Chavez’s department-issued Glock 9 mm pistol.
“The gun was the biggest hang-up, but there was no proof,” she said. “There was no solid evidence one way or the other.”
The male juror seemed to agree.
“Showing a gun is not showing evidence. It’s just a gun,” said the juror, who declined to give his name. “… I’m looking at evidence that’s proven on the table.”
District Attorney Lemuel Martinez said in a phone interview Tuesday that the gun was the prosecution’s “key piece of evidence.”
Days of testimony were spent discussing the gun, Levi Chavez’s APD-issued 9mm Glock. At issue in particular was lead investigator Aaron Jones’ assertion that the gun’s magazine was unseated when he found it next to Tera Chavez’s body and that a fresh round was in the firing chamber.
The magazine, a polymer piece that holds bullets, is inserted into the butt of the pistol. When a shot is fired, provided the magazine is locked in place (also called “seated”) the semiautomatic pistol automatically pulls another bullet from the magazine and loads it into the gun’s chamber, according to testimony.
The gun will fire, firearms expert Mark Radosevich testified, if the magazine is “unseated,” but it won’t chamber another round.
To release the magazine from its “seated” position, someone needed to press a button on the handle after the gun was fired, he testified.
A forensic pathologist testified earlier in the trial that Tera died almost immediately and that she would not have been able to release the magazine herself.
The female juror said the jury’s decision was difficult but unanimous.
“I feel confident with my choice, but I cry for the family,” she said.
The male juror added that, for him, the hardest part of the more-than-five-week trial came at the very end, when he was finally asked to cast his vote:
“Making the decision is the hardest part. Going through the evidence is the easiest,” he said. “… I think the saddest thing here comes down to Tera Chavez.”
He also said that a “turning point” in the trial was reached, but he declined to say when or what it entailed.
“There was a turning point,” he said, rolling up his car window to block reporters’ questions. “It was rough. But there was a turning point. I’ll just leave it at that.”