Chavez trial proceeds with defense

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Two of Levi Chavez's alibi witnesses gave testimony — in one case emotional and in the other combative — in front of a packed courtroom Tuesday as control of the former Albuquerque police officer's murder trial shifted to the defense.

First on the witness stand was Rita Romero, Levi Chavez's mother, who testified through sobs how much she loved her former daughter-in-law, Tera Chavez.

But Romero also testified that Tera was essentially lost during her numerous separations from Levi. She used words such as "lonely," "scared" and "isolated."

Those separations, according to earlier testimony, were due in large part to Levi Chavez's long-standing habit of cheating on Tera. The unfaithfulness began early in the couple's 10-year relationship, around the time Tera became pregnant with the couple's first child shortly before her 16th birthday.

But Romero said she never knew about her son's infidelity — only that he and Tera "were having problems."

Romero testified that she had regrets about "guilting and coercing" her son to remain married to Tera even though the two "should've been divorced many years ago."

Levi Chavez is charged with first-degree murder and evidence tampering. Prosecutors allege that he killed Tera in the couple's Las Maravillas home on either Oct. 19, 20 or 21, 2007, and tried to make her death look like a suicide.

The defense contends that Tera shot herself with her husband's Albuquerque Police Department-issued pistol.

Levi Chavez cried at the defense table while his mother testified.

Levi was staying with his mother in October 2007, she testified, during one of the couple's estrangements.

On Oct. 21 of that year — a Sunday — Romero tried several times to call her son to set up a lunch date, she said. She was unsuccessful, but Levi later showed up at her home in Los Lunas shortly after 8 p.m.

Romero testified that by then, she had learned that Tera didn't go to work at Style America that day, and that she hadn't called in sick, as she had the day before.

She said she passed that information along to her son, who decided to go by the couple's home to check on Tera.

Levi Chavez called 911 around 9 p.m. that day, Oct. 21, 2007, to say his wife had shot herself in the head.

In the days after Tera's death, Romero said, her son was "distraught, broken, fragile" and unwilling to leave his room.

According to testimony earlier in the trial, he was exchanging text messages 24 days after the 911 call with another APD officer about the two getting married.

Levi Chavez did, indeed, marry Heather Chavez (née Hindi) in the summer of 2008.

After Romero testified, Russell Perea took the witness stand — armed with a promise of immunity granted by the judge in exchange for his testimony.

Perea, a former APD officer and former Belen Police Department detective, was sharing a police vehicle with Levi Chavez on Oct. 19 and 20.

His much-anticipated testimony did not appear to help either side, as Perea said he couldn't be sure where Levi Chavez was for the entirety of the two swing shifts.

The magazine that held the bullets for Levi Chavez's APD-issued Glock 9 mm pistol took center stage Monday as the prosecution rested its case.

Mark A. Radosevich, a well-known figure in New Mexico law enforcement since the early 1970s, testified as a firearms expert for prosecutors. He was the 35th of 36 witnesses called by the state.

Radosevich spent most of his time on the stand answering questions about what has become one of the trial's most important — and contested — points: Whether Tera Chavez could have shot herself with her husband's service pistol.

At issue is testimony that the magazine in the pistol was "unseated" after Tera's body was found and what that means to the case. Also, a new bullet was in the Glock's firing chamber when law enforcement arrived at the home.

With one clear, simple statement, Radosevich drove home the state's contention that Tera Chavez could not have pulled the trigger herself.

"Someone had to press that magazine release after (the Glock) was fired," he said.

A forensic pathologist testified earlier in the trial that Tera died almost immediately after one shot was fired into her mouth. She would not have been able to release the magazine herself.

All of the discussion about whether the magazine was "seated" began with Aaron Jones, the lead detective who investigated Tera's death for the Valencia County Sheriff's Office.

Jones is the one who removed the gun from next to Tera's body, and he testified at trial that he noted the magazine was "unseated" and that a bullet was in the firing chamber.

Others, including Radosevich, have testified that, based on less-than-ideal crime scene photographs, the magazine appeared to have possibly been "unseated."

Defense Attorney David Serna has sought to poke holes in those assessments as well as to discredit Jones, describing the former detective as a conspiracy theorist, an unethical investigator and a man who has twice been fired from law enforcement agencies.

Jones is the only one who has testified to direct knowledge of the Glock's magazine being unseated.

In response to whether Jones had passed along the information about the magazine not being secured into the butt of the pistol, Radosevich answered: "At the time (Jones) recovered it, yes," Jones said the magazine was unseated.

"Based on my experience … the magazine release had to be depressed after that firing sequence was completed," he said.