BERNALILLO, N.M. (AP) — A former Albuquerque police officer accused of killing his wife and making her death look like a suicide testified Wednesday about the couple's rocky history and steamy affairs, breaking down as he described ignoring nearly 200 calls from her the day before he says he found her body.
Levi Chavez, 32, took the stand as the defense began wrapping up a monthlong trial that has included testimony from four of Chavez's former mistresses, including a woman who Chavez says he stayed with the night his wife died, and a fellow officer who became engaged to Chavez two months after his wife's death.
Chavez is accused of shooting his wife with his department-issued gun in October 2007 at their Los Lunas home and then trying to make her death look like a suicide.
Asked directly if he killed his wife, Chavez said "absolutely not."
But he did acknowledge cheating on 26-year-old Tera Chavez throughout their marriage. Among the tales: a tryst with a woman he met while dropping his daughter off at school in his uniform.
"It was purely sex," Chavez said.
Under cross-examination, Chavez also admitted seeing someone else when he was just 16 and Tera was 15 and pregnant with their first child.
The affairs and the troubled marriage left his wife volatile, Chavez said, with her often demanding that he leave, and then begging him to come home.
He also testified that Tera Chavez threatened suicide "countless times," saying things like she couldn't live without him.
Chavez 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 Deborah Romero. The next day, he said he became worried when the calls stopped and his mother told him his wife had called in sick.
Although Chavez testified that his wife had never attempted suicide and he never believed she would hurt herself, he broke down in tears during later testimony, saying he knew something was wrong the following evening when he discovered the calls had stopped and she failed to respond to his calls and texts. He described rushing to the couple's home to find her dead in the dark bedroom.
"I turned on the light and it was just like terror," he said. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing."
He said he blamed himself for his wife's death and felt it was "God saying, 'This is all your fault.'"
Prosecutors have depicted Chavez as a philanderer whose marriage was crumbling. They said he killed his wife after she found out that he had staged the theft of his pickup valued at more than $20,000 to collect the insurance proceeds.
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