Deliberations Start Monday in NM Ex-Officer Trial

The murder trial of a former Albuquerque police officer charged with killing his estranged wife wrapped up Friday as prosecutors portrayed Levi Chavez as a philandering, slick and cold-blooded killer and defense lawyers called him an innocent man and victim of a "made-up story."

Jurors will begin deliberations Monday about which scenario to believe after a monthlong trial that focused on the salacious details of love triangles and workplace romances, allegations of a botched investigation and charges that fellow Albuquerque Police Department officers who came to the scene in neighboring Los Lunas flushed key evidence down the toilet.

Assistant District Attorney Bryan McKay laid out the alleged murder scenario during his closing Friday morning, saying Chavez, 32, committed "cold-blooded, calculated, planned-out murder" when he killed Tera Chavez on Oct. 20, 2007, a day she called him nearly 200 times.

McKay says Chavez went to his wife's house after he finished his shift, found her asleep in front of the television, shoved his department-issued gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger.

Then he showered and went to spend the night with a girlfriend, McKay said.

"This was not some heat of passion, an argument," McKay said. "He thinks he has committed the perfect murder."

Defense attorney David Serna, however, painted the picture of a hurt, sad and suicidal woman who took her own life because of her volatile marriage and a crumbling affair.

"I love you with all of my heart and I don't want to be without you. Please don't leave me. I am so sad. ... I am so sad I want to die. I can't survive this," were some of the texts Serna said Tera Chavez, 26, sent her husband.

Prosecutors say Levi Chavez sent the texts.

Serna argued his client has been a victim of an overly aggressive detective and prosecutors who "have been able to cobble together a semi-believable, made-up story."

He emphasized Chavez was investigated by a number of law enforcement agencies and it still took four years to indict him. Now prosecutors are using that information to try to make a suicide look like a homicide, he said.

This "made up case is not a case at all," Serna said as he spent much of the three hours allotted to him questioning assertions made by prosecutors and their witnesses and emphasizing the jury's need to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction.

"There is no evidence that Levi was even in the same county as Tera Chavez" the night she died, he said.

He detailed Chavez's cooperation and lack of attorney throughout the initial investigation, pointed to what he said was "obvious agony and torture" on the 911 call after Levi Chavez reported finding his wife's body the following night and his willingness to take the stand in his own defense.

"Is that what an innocent man does?" he asked "... Any reasonable doubt yet?

Prosecutors have said the couple had a volatile relationship from the time Tera Chavez got pregnant with their first child at 15. And they said she was telling friends her husband had committed insurance fraud by staging the theft of their truck.

Serna pointed to testimony from one of Tera Chavez's best friends that she was sad that an affair with the husband of the woman who had been her maid of honor was crumbling, and she had been hoping to spend the weekend with Levi Chavez while their children were camping.

But prosecutor Anne Keener said Levi Chavez not coming home "wasn't new behavior. ... This was going on since she was 15."

This time, however, she said he had his eye on a prize: his current wife and fellow officer Heather Hindi, whom he became engaged to just two months after Tera Chavez died.

"She was perfect. She was beautiful. She had money. Her family has money," Keener said.

Chavez testified Wednesday, acknowledging having a string of mistresses, searching a website on how to kill someone with martial arts moves and ignoring his wife's calls for help. But he denied killing his wife.

He also testified that his wife called him 176 times on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2007, but he ignored the calls and turned off his cellphone before going to spend the night with fellow officer Debra Romero. The next day, he said he became worried when the calls stopped, and his mother told him his wife had called in sick.

Keener said he only became worried because he realized no one would have checked on her, meaning his kids would be the first to find her body.

A key question during the trial was whether Tera Chavez could have shot herself.

There was a bullet in the gun's chamber when it was found next to Tera Chavez's body, and there were questions raised about whether the gun's magazine was still seated inside the weapon. Prosecutors contend that it would have been impossible for the woman to press the button to release the magazine after shooting herself. And a defense expert was unable to pull off a demonstration to show it was possible.

McKay contends that Chavez hit the button in his "adrenaline rush."

"This is not a suicide," he said. "It doesn't add up. This is murder."

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