BERNALILLO, N.M. (AP) — A lead investiga[auth] tor in the case of a former Albuquerque police officer accused of killing his wife came under aggressive questioning Thursday from a defense attorney who suggested that the investigator was trying to anger and scare witnesses to get them to change their stories.
During an often intensive round of questioning, attorney David Serna went after former Valencia County Sheriff’s Detective Aaron Jones on why he kept telling one witness that Levi Chavez was having an affair and showed other witnesses graphic photos of the death scene.
The questioning came during testimony in Sandoval County in the murder trial of Chavez, whom prosecutors say shot his wife, 26-year-old Tera Chavez, with his department-issued gun at the couple’s Los Lunas home in 2007, and tried to make her death look like a suicide.
The 32-year-old is charged with first-degree murder and tampering with evidence.
But Serna asserted that it was Jones who was tampering with the case by telling Debra Romero, the woman with whom Chavez admitted having an affair, that Chavez had called her a “(expletive) freak” and that Chavez was also seeing other women. “What you are trying to do is get her angry at Levi so she can stop telling you the truth,” Serna said. Romero had told investigators that Chavez was with her the day his wife was killed.
“I informed her,” Jones replied.
Jones also said he told Romero about his suspicion that Tera Chavez’s death may have been a homicide because Romero was trying to be Levi Chavez’s alibi. Jones said he believed Romero and Levi Chavez thought he was harassing them with his questioning.
“Can you read minds?” asked Serna, who has said Jones was a “dirty, dishonest” officer who had trouble keeping law enforcement jobs.
The testy exchange drew warnings from state District Judge George P. Eichwald who told the two to tone down their snippy responses and ordered prosecutors and others in the courtroom to stop laughing.
Jones testified a day after jurors were shown bloody photos from the death scene, highlighting what both sides say was a sloppy investigation.
Prosecutor Bryan McKay said evidence was ignored at the scene and investigators rushed through their duties.
One photo of the bloody bedding was shown to jurors while former Albuquerque police Lt. Shawn O’Connell testified that he cut up the bedding to prevent the couple’s children from seeing it. That portion of the bloody bedding was later taken to a funeral home to be destroyed before investigators had a chance to keep it as evidence, O’Connell admitted.
O’Connell, who arrived at the scene as part of his police union duties, said he also found a bag of a “green, leafy” substance and a journal that Valencia County Sheriff’s deputies missed.
Another photo showed Tera Chavez’s lifeless body on the bed and gun not too far from her hand.
Jones told jurors that he saw a “red colored substance” in the toilet but that evidence also was not collected. O’Connell said he used the bathroom and flushed that toilet.