LAS CRUCES – A state District Court judge on Wednesday set a new trial date for Tai R. Chan, the former Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputy accused of fatally shooting a fellow deputy at an upscale Las Cruces hotel in 2014.
Chan, who turned 29 on Wednesday, was scheduled to stand trial in 3rd Judicial District Court in Las Cruces beginning March 21 for the shooting death of 29-year-old Jeremy Martin. Chan is charged with first-degree murder, a capital offense that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The trial is now scheduled to begin May 23 and could last until June 13. The trial, initially scheduled to begin in September 2015, has since been rescheduled three times.
Chan, a Santa Fe native, is accused of firing several shots at Martin inside Hotel Encanto, 705. S. Telshor Blvd., during an alcohol-fueled fight, which Las Cruces police believe began hours earlier at Dublin’s Street Pub, 1745 E. University Ave. An autopsy revealed Martin had been shot five times.
Earlier this month, Chan’s attorneys, John Day and Thomas Clark, both of Santa Fe, filed an unopposed motion to continue the March trial date, urging the court to reset the trial for a later date. The motion, which primarily contended the defense needed more time to prepare for trial, was denied by Chief District Judge Fernando R. Macias on Feb. 4.
The following week, on Feb. 10, Chan’s attorneys filed another unopposed motion, asking Macias to reconsider. The attorneys said a “great deal of preparation remains in order to have the case ready for trial,” according to the motion.
On Wednesday, Macias granted the motion and set the new trial date after hearing arguments from Day, who was accompanied by Chan, and Deputy District Attorney Gerald Byers of the 3rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office, one of the prosecutors assigned to the case. Clark participated in the hearing telephonically.
Both parties seemed to agree additional time would be needed to complete witness interviews. Byers told Macias that prosecutors intend to call as many as 85 witnesses to testify. Day later said the defense plan to call between 10 to 15 witnesses, including several experts, during the estimated three-week trial.
To date, Byers said, 25 witnesses have been interviewed by the attorneys.
“It is bewildering that only 25 witnesses could have been interviewed” since January 2015, when the first trial was scheduled, Macias said.
Clark, who joined Chan’s defense in January, following the departure of attorney Todd Coberly, also of Santa Fe, said many of the prosecution’s 85 witnesses were police officers whose testimony would be relatively short. Clark said he anticipated that eight to nine witnesses could be called a day.
Macias sounded reluctant to grant the motion. “I’m going to give a date, and we’re going to trial on that date,” he said, with a tone of slight frustration in his voice. “I am resistant to moving the date in March.”
Day later sought a different trial date after the new date was scheduled, saying he could not guarantee the defense’s expert witnesses would be available to testify during that time.
“If we can’t go to that trial date (in May), we will go back to the trial date (in March),” Macias told Day.
Macias also said the court would allow flexibility in how witnesses are called to testify, allowing attorneys to better accommodate witnesses’ schedules. He also set a May 16 deadline for any motions to be filed.
After the hearing, Day said, “Both sides were seeking to get this pushed back because of the sheer volume of witnesses and evidence we have to sort through.”
Day didn’t directly comment when asked if the defense would be prepared for the May trial date. “There’s a lot of evidence here. As we said, there’s 85 witnesses from the prosecution, and every time we interview those witnesses, it generates more and more information. It’s a serious case and so we’re trying to make sure that everyone is prepared,” he said.
Chan declined to comment.
He has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and is living in Santa Fe under house arrest.
Carlos Andres López can be reached 575-541-5453, firstname.lastname@example.org or @carlopez_los on Twitter.
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