UPDATE today from Associated Press
LAS CRUCES — Prosecutors have begun calling witnesses to the stand in the trial for a former Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputy accused of fatally shooting a fellow deputy during an argument.
The first witness to take the stand Tuesday was Sarah Martin, the widow of Deputy Jeremy Martin. Authorities say the deputy was shot and killed at a Las Cruces hotel by Tai Chan during an October 2014 work trip.
Chan, now 29, has been charged with murder in Martin’s death.
Sarah Martin’s testimony lasted several minutes before prosecutors finished questioning. Defense attorneys declined to question her.
Randy Hudson, a guest at the hotel the night of the shooting, also testified, saying he heard a rapid burst of gunfire before three distinct shots were fired.
Chan’s attorney told jurors in opening arguments that evidence indicates he acted in self-defense.
By Lauren Villagran
Journal Staff Writer
LAS CRUCES – Defense attorneys will argue that a Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputy who shot his partner dead in an upscale Las Cruces hotel did so in self-defense.
Prosecutors will try to prove that Tai Chan deliberately gunned down deputy Jeremy Martin.
Both sides made their opening statements Monday in 3rd Judicial District Court in the trial of Chan, who is charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Martin. Chan has pleaded not guilty.
One of the more than 80 witnesses expected to testify is Chan’s then-girlfriend, Leah Tafoya, who is now Chan’s wife. She was on the phone with Chan when the gunshots were fired after midnight one night in late October 2014.
Chan, 27, fatally shot Martin, 29, on the seventh floor of the Hotel Encanto after an argument that started at a pub where the two deputies had been drinking. They were spending the night in Las Cruces on their way home to Santa Fe after escorting a prisoner to Arizona.
The night of the shooting, police dispatch began receiving numerous calls, and responding officers found Martin at the elevators of the hotel lobby suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. An autopsy showed that Martin was shot multiple times from behind.
“The defendant discharged not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven, not eight, not nine but 10 rounds at his co-worker, striking him with five,” prosecutor Gerald Byers told jurors during his opening statement. “The evidence will show that the bullet wounds were all – all – in the back.”
Thomas Clark, representing Chan, told jurors in his opening statement that the forensic evidence – including Chan’s own blood allegedly found on a hotel room bed, indicating a violent fight, and Martin’s DNA allegedly present on Chan’s gun – would present “a vastly different scenario.”
“We believe the evidence points that my client, our client, acted in self-defense,” Clark said. “Not only is he not a coldblooded murderer, but he acted in the only way he could to defend himself from harm.”
Guests of the Hotel Encanto that night are expected to testify, as are a hotel security guard, a night clerk, DNA analysts and forensic pathologists. Friends of the deputies who were out drinking with the two men that night are also expected to take the stand.
Chan appeared in court Monday in a light gray suit and pastel tie, flanked by attorneys John Day and Clark, both of Santa Fe. It was not immediately clear whether Chan himself will testify in the case.
Among the first witnesses to be called was the Las Cruces police officer who found Martin in the hotel lobby, Connie Heard.
“It looked as if the elevator doors had opened and he just fell right out,” she said. “He had kind of crumpled onto the tile. There were multiple holes in him.”
She broke down momentarily before continuing: “I could hear … it was a moaning, a groaning and a gurgling. He wasn’t dead.”
Martin was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died.
Police officers found Chan in a stairwell landing leading to the hotel’s roof, the door to which was locked.
According to the police affidavit, “While being transported to the station Chan stated, ‘I shot the guy’ and said that the person he shot was his friend.”
Chan has been free on a $600,000 secured bond in Santa Fe, under monitoring by an electronic ankle bracelet.
The trial is scheduled to last two weeks.