Juror: 2nd thoughts of NM-ex-officer’s acquittal

July 28, 2013 • State News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A juror in the trial of a former Albuquerque police officer acquitted of killing his wife said Friday that is having second thoughts about the panel’s decision.

Fred Trujillo told the Albuquerque Journal ( that he regrets finding Levi Chavez not guilty of killing his wife and that barred evidence might have changed his mind.

Chavez was acquitted last month of killing his 26-year-old wife Tera Chavez and making it look like a suicide.

Trujillo, a salesman, said in an interview that he was the last holdout for a guilty verdict and that he strongly considered swimming upstream and hanging the jury.

“I didn’t really know how the law worked. If I hung the jury, I was under the impression that he would be set free [auth] anyway,” Trujillo said. “I didn’t know or realize that if I did hang the jury, that it could go to a different trial if the state was to go after it again.”

Trujillo said that he struggled through five weeks of emotional courtroom drama and 11 hours of deliberations in the recently concluded trial.

During his interview with the Journal, he said the nagging feeling that he had failed Tera’s family with his decision hasn’t gone away.

Instead, it has grown, beginning when he walked out of the Sandoval County courthouse, dodged questions from a group of reporters and got in his car.

Trujillo then went digging. He read news reports about evidence that had been barred from the courtroom as a result of pre-trial wrangling.

He said some of that evidence — including information about the state’s theory on Levi Chavez’s motive to kill Tera — would have been enough to change his mind.

“It was a sick feeling,” Trujillo said.

Defense attorney David Serna convinced a judge to bar evidence about allegations Chavez killed his wife to hide a stage theft of a truck.

Reached by telephone late Friday, Serna said he had a number of concerns with Trujillo’s comments but agreed that the state hadn’t made its case.

“It may be that Tera Chavez was murdered,” Serna said. “We believe that the much more likely scenario is that she committed suicide.

“Even if the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Tera was murdered, they never presented one scintilla of evidence that Levi Chavez was even in the same county when she died,” Serna said.

The former officer’s 2004 Ford F-250 pickup had been part of the state’s case. Prosecutors contended that Chavez killed his wife in part to keep her from turning him in for an alleged scam in which he and his “cop buddies” staged the theft of the truck to collect insurance money.

Jurors only heard part of the state’s theory.

They received an instruction that said an agent from the state Insurance Fraud Bureau had gotten an anonymous call from the Los Lunas Style America — where Tera Chavez worked — just weeks before her death.

The agent’s investigation determined that the allegation was “unfounded,” the jury instruction said.

The agent did not testify, the newspaper reported.

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