Ex-Albuquerque cop accused in wife death testifies

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 10, 2013 at 7:55 pm •  Published: July 10, 2013
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The defense said the death was a suicide by a woman unraveling over her failed marriage and relationships.

But prosecutor Bryan McKay questioned why Chavez would leave his loaded, department-issued gun "with a woman who was depressed and had talked for years about possibly hurting herself, and you had small children in the house."

"But I also knew we had an attempted break-in. A truck was stolen right out of our driveway when she was there," Chavez replied. " ... And yes, I had small children in the home, but this is exactly why" he said he left the gun at the house.

Much of the trial has focused on the couple's extra-marital relationships, including a love triangle at the hair salon where Tera Chavez worked. One mistress testified she continued to get her hair cut by Tera Chavez while she was sleeping with Levi Chavez. Other witnesses said Tera Chavez was having an affair with an Albuquerque police officer who was married to the maid of honor in their wedding. They had sex in the back of a hair salon where she worked, according to testimony.

The case has threatened to further tarnish the reputation of the beleaguered Albuquerque Police Department, which already is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department over a series of police shootings. The trial included allegations that officers at the scene removed and even flushed key evidence down the toilet.

Defense attorney David Serna, who has long represented clients in high-profile New Mexico homicide cases, was able to persuade the judge to bar statements Tera Chavez made about her husband and his "cop buddies" staging the theft of Levi Chavez's 2004 Ford F-250 truck as part of an insurance scam.

But Chavez and his lawyer suffered an apparent setback last week when a crime scene expert testifying in his defense failed to pull off a demonstration of how the officer's wife might have been able to kill herself with his gun. There was a bullet in the gun's chamber when it was found next to Tera Chavez's body and the magazine was no longer attached to the weapon. Prosecutors contend it would have been impossible for the woman to press the button to release the magazine after shooting herself in the mouth.

Levi Chavez said he only knew of one time that his wife shot his handgun.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras