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Tera Chavez’s parents speak out

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two days after hearing a difficult but unsurprising verdict read in a Sandoval County District courtroom, Tera Chavez’s parents sat down with the Journal and KOAT-TV to discuss their feelings about the 5 ½ year ordeal that concluded Tuesday and their plans for the future.

Joseph and Theresa Cordova lost their daughter, Tera Chavez, in October 2007.

They remain convinced that Tera’s husband, then-APD officer Levi Chavez, killed her.

A Sandoval County jury of nine women and three men didn’t see it that way. They found Levi Chavez not guilty of first-degree murder and evidence tampering.


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The Cordovas also say they lost their grandchildren, who they say they haven’t been allowed to see since around the time their son-in-law was indicted inApril 2011.

Here is the complete transcript from the Cordovas’ Thursday morning interview:

Anna Velasquez, KOAT: How are you guys doing today?
Joseph Cordova: We’re doing ok. We had a difficult day yesterday. Time goes on and life goes on, and we’re going to move forward. We’re strong as a family, and it was a difficult day on Tuesday — quite difficult. I’ll state the obvious: we’re very disappointed in the verdict. We knew from the onset of the pretrial hearings that it was going to be a very upward battle for the prosecution — when the forfeiture by wrongdoing law was not allowed in, and Tera’s own mother, Theresa, was not to testify on Tera’s behalf was quite difficult to swallow. In regard to what Tera was saying just days before her death, I think that should have been heard. Throughout the trial, we were not given that break. That said, there’s a lot of things that happened behind the scenes for the prosecution. The prosecutors did a great job, they really did, with what they had to work with. The motive was limited due to things that the prosecution had no control over. For a seasoned officer to walk in in the twelfth hour after a witness’s given statement and make comments to the prosecution — they’re held up to the highest integrity to go in and tell the judge: ‘We have a problem.’ And they did that. And I honor them for that. Bryan McKay: honorable man, very honorable man.  Anne Keener: bless her heart, she did everything that she could. I feel that if all the evidence was allowed into this trial, I definitely feel that the verdict would have been much different. We just couldn’t meet beyond a reasonable doubt. I’m not pointing the finger at the jury. They did what they could do. I think the powers that be in the judicial system should read the transcripts of every time counsel was called to the bench. I challenge them to do that. I have issue with that. I lost a little faith with that happening, but we’re going to move forward. We’re a strong family: my sons and I and my wife, Theresa, we’re going to move forward. Life goes on. We don’t know what we’re going to do at this point as far as the civil suit goes. That’s a difficult one. We will be meeting with Brad Hall and Maureen Sanders, the special representative of the estate of Tera, for the children. We’ll meet with them soon; we’re in no big rush. We’re here today, not to fight; we’re here today to say: justice was not served. He was found not guilty, which in our eyes is not innocent. Tera would not have done this. She would not have left those beautiful children. Speaking of those children (he turns to face the camera, chokes up Andrea, little Levi, if you ever want to come home for a visit our doors are open. You know how we feel: We love you, unconditionally, and we miss you. We lost our daughter and we lost our family. I don’t want to have to go beg to see my grandchildren. I want them to come to us willingly. They know we love them, and miss them. (Turns to the camera again) Come home. Visit. You don’t have to stay; just visit.

AV: So, since 2011 …
JC: Since 2011, we have not been allowed to see our grandchildren.
Theresa Cordova: We have no contact at all. No contact.

AV: Have you tried and been denied?
JC: We were given a phone number that no longer exists, and with the trial going on, we would not be able to — we would not be able to make contact. So, we’re between a rock and a hard spot as far as the children. And again, we didn’t want to add any more stress …
TC: … to their lives …
JC: … to their lives.
TC: I send cards, and hopefully they get them, so they know we think of them.

JC: We’re open to questions if you have questions.

Jeff Proctor, Albuquerque Journal: I know it’s difficult, but if you don’t mind kind of trying to describe a little bit what it was like in the courtroom Tuesday when the verdict was read: what you felt, what was going through your minds. I know you guys, per the judge’s direction, left the courtroom pretty quickly. But if you don’t mind, trying to describe sort of what that was like for you.
JC: As far as I’m concerned, walking into the courtroom and waiting for the verdict — the eyes of the jury and the eyes of the court reporter pretty much gave it away to us.
TC: We knew before it was even said.
JC: We knew before it was said. We could feel it. As we got down from our vehicle, the jury was outside on break and they saw us. And they started crying, and they started hugging each other. We knew. We knew at that point. We set ourselves up for a victory, and it was hard to swallow. But with the limited evidence that was allowed, I could see how the jury came to that conclusion. So, to answer your question: Our hearts were broken. We just sunk. And I needed to get Theresa out of there as fast as I could. Unfortunately, some cameramen had fallen over backwards. My son, Aaron, helped them up. I would never shove anyone. It may have appeared that way. I did not do that. People were trying to get a statement — how do you make a statement like that? It was very difficult. So, for those of you that fell, cameramen, or ran into telephone poles or whatever happened, know that we wouldn’t do that. We respect the Journal. We respect you, Anna. You have been great to our family, and we appreciate you, both of you. Thank you. And thank the District Attorney’s team. That whole team did their best with what they had to work with. Their heart went into it. They really did.

AV: When Levi took the stand: What was that like to listen to him?
JC: It was difficult to — there was one moment there that I cringed. To make the statement that Tera would be jealous of her own daughter for the affections that Andrea would show her father was absurd. But then again, he would say anything not to go to prison. I see that. But that was one of the hardest things to swallow at that time, by far.

JP: A lot was, from the defense side — and I know you’re not here to fight, so, respectfully: A lot was said by the defense lawyer in this case during testimony and argument, etc., sort of assigning motives to your family in the course of the investigation of this case and the way your family went about handling this from the time of Tera’s death. Would you like to respond that? I know you really didn’t get that chance from the witness stand. How do you respond to that?
JC: Well, I’m not one to live in courtrooms like David Serna and the prosecution. I think it could’ve been handled a little bit more tactfully when it came — it was like sitting through the death of our daughter for the second time, disgracing her, in the way the defense handled a lot of the issues that could have been left out. Obviously, we brought this forward and we thought it would be handled tactfully. And we did put our stuff out there. And the defense took it one step deeper: They disgraced her, in our view.

JP: If you don’t mind — and again, if this isn’t a question you’re comfortable answering, that’s OK. What do you believe happened to Tera?
JC: I believe Tera was murdered. I honestly feel Tera was murdered. Under all the testimony and all the evidence that showed — especially the autopsy picture of her tongue, that was very difficult to watch. No one can tell me that someone that’s going to commit suicide would turn a gun upside down, in a difficult position, shove it all the way to the back of their throat and then pull that trigger. This was not a suicide. This is a person that was able to commit murder and get away with it. That’s what happened here.

AV: How difficult was it to listen to the OMI testify about her last moments?
TC: That was very difficult.  We’d gone through and known most of the detail. But we didn’t know that she had taken two last breaths, and that was very difficult.
JC: First time we had heard that. No one ever shared that with us. That was very difficult.

JP: You had mentioned wanting the judicial powers that be to go back and review the transcripts from some of those bench conferences. Do you mind elaborating on that a little bit? Is there any more you can tell us about why you’d like to see that happen?
JC: To answer your question, Jeff, I think that, once you read the transcript and you were able to see for yourself — you be the judge, you be the judge. That’s all I can say to that. No more comment. You really want to see what took place at that bench conference? Read the transcripts. It’s a little unsettling.

JP: What’s next for your family? I understand you’re going to evaluate in terms of the civil case that’s pending, but beyond that, how do you go forward as a family and continue to honor your daughter’s memory?
JC: Well, we would really like to have Tera back. Of course, with Levi being found not guilty, that would be a difficult situation. As far as Tera goes? Rest in peace. Unfortunately, over the 5 ½ years that we’ve been dealing with this, you grow callous. Life goes on. I will soon go back to work. My sons, I have sheltered them throughout this whole process. Through the years, I gave them very limited information because they have young families. Theresa and I have taken the brunt of this. Theresa will go back to teaching her physical fitness classes, and I get to go back into the public and work at Sandia National Labs. I have a lot of support there, good people to work with. So that’s how we’re going to carry on. Life goes on.

AV: About the trial, what was the most difficult thing you had to sit through?
JC: The most difficult time that we had, that I had — can I speak for both of us? The jury wasn’t in the room at the time, and a motion was being heard, and Mr. Serna degraded Tera when he was talking about video tapes and the pictures that were coming that were not going to be allowed as he was trying to get them allowed into evidence. Did Tera love Levi? Most definitely. She loved him. They were a young couple. And the technology today, obviously with those pictures and the videos: they were having fun. He made it dirty. There’s no reason for that. That was difficult. As a father? Very difficult. But what do you do? You sit there. You brought this forward. You sit there and you take it. And that’s what we did. We never had an outburst. We sat there and took it. That’s what you do.

AV: For me, it was especially difficult to listen to her journal entries. Those were heart-breaking.
JC: Very heart-breaking. In 2004, she definitely had a very hard time. I found that she did a turnaround in 2007, in June, July, she finally was fed up with that life. Her last statement says it all: “Happiness.” Her and I would have had a great business together. Of course, she laughed when I said I would be her silent partner. There’s nothing silent about me, I guess. Just so that people know, the name of her business would have been called “Pink.” And I think the Pink salon would have been a great asset for the community. It would’ve been a great place to go to. So, those of you that carry journals and write journals: Express yourself. That’s what she was doing. She was expressing herself. She was venting. But read June and July’s. She was done.