Judge halts hearing in Chavez case

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A state district judge on Thursday halted prosecutors' plans, at least temporarily, to put witnesses on the stand who were expected to testify that Tera Chavez was afraid that her husband, former APD officer Levi Chavez, was going to kill her.

Levi Chavez is accused of killing his wife with his department-issued handgun in the couple's Los Lunas home in October 2007 and of trying to make her death look like a suicide. He is charged with first-degree murder and evidence tampering, and the case is scheduled for trial in June.

Judge George P. Eichwald determined in a courtroom that was closed to the public that allowing such testimony in a pretrial hearing nearly three months before the scheduled trial date would be "premature," David Serna, Levi Chavez's attorney, told reporters outside the courtroom.

"We agree with that," said Serna, who has maintained Chavez's innocence since the former officer was indicted in April 2011.

Levi Chavez was fired from the department the day his indictment was handed up.

Thirteenth Judicial District Attorney Lemuel Martinez said in an interview that the timing of the pretrial hearing was appropriate "in the interest of judicial economy and to avoid future delays in the case."

"It's been 5 1/2 years, and that's long enough," he said, adding that it was unclear whether Eichwald's decision Thursday could affect the June trial date.

A motion filed by Martinez's office in advance of Thursday's aborted hearing clarified for the first time that a long-reported theory of Tera Chavez's death is indeed something prosecutors plan to argue at trial. That is, that Levi Chavez allegedly killed his wife to keep her from exposing him and other APD officers for staging the theft of Levi Chavez's truck.

Patrick Cordova, who worked with Tera Chavez and is her father's cousin, would have testified Thursday that she told him one of her husband's "cop buddies had taken the truck so the insurance company would never find it," according to prosecutors' motion.

"On the Thursday before Tera Chavez died, she told Patrick Cordova that she would probably come up dead and that Levi would be the one to kill her," the motion says.

Richard Farrelly, an investigator with the state Insurance Fraud Bureau, would have testified that he received a call four days before her death from a woman he later came to believe had been Tera Chavez, the motion states. The caller asked Farrelly to whom she should report someone who had staged the theft of a truck.

In his response to the prosecution's motion, Serna wrote that the female caller had identified herself as "Sara Lucero" and had given Farrelly the telephone number of the Los Lunas hair salon where Tera Chavez worked.

"Mr. Farrelly does not know whether the person that called him was Tera Chavez or someone else," Serna wrote.