Murder suspect commits suicide in detention center

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A 32-year-old Belen man, charged in the 2012 shooting death of a mother and daughter, died Friday evening after hanging himself in his jail cell.

Valencia County Detention Center Warden Joe Chavez said Matthew Chavez was found in his cell just after 6 a.m. on Friday.

The warden said after officers removed the make-shift noose, they began CPR until paramedics arrived.

"He still had a pulse when he left (he jail)," Joe Chavez said. "When they arrived at the hospital, he was put on life support."

The warden said Matthew Chavez's family was notified and allowed to visit him in the hospital.

"The family signed a (do not resuscitate) order and took him off life support," Joe Chavez said.

The warden said the man was declared dead around 7:30 p.m.

Matthew Chavez was charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Stephanie Gonzales, 24, and her mother, Angela Romero, 48, in January 2012.

The two women were killed on Jan. 19, 2012, after Chavez had an argument with Gonzales at 501 N. 11th in Belen.

Belen Police Chief Dan Robb said Chavez shot and killed the two women after an argument between Gonzales and Chavez escalated. Gonzales went to the residence to get her cell phone back from Chavez, Robb told the News-Bulletin in 2012. Chavez and Gonzales had been dating, he said.

While she was in the home, Chavez shot Gonzales in the head, then he went outside, chased Romero on foot down 11th Street, where she was also shot in the head area.

Gonzales died at the scene. Romero was transported to an Albuquerque hospital, but was declared dead soon after arrival.

Chavez was taken into custody the day after the shooting after he fled from police officers in a high-speed chase.

An internal investigation has been launched at the jail and the sheriff's department is conducting an investigation, as per protocol, Joe Chavez said.

The warden said Matthew Chavez was in voluntary protective custody because of his charges.

"It's what he wanted. He has been here since Jan. 27, 2012, and there was never any indication of suicide," the warden said. "He never tried to hurt himself, there was no warning."

Debbie Romero-Aragonez, Romero's sister, said emotions among family members were running high after learning of the news of Chavez's death.

"We wanted Matt to go to court and deal with the consequences of what he did," Romero-Aragonez said. "For myself, I have really mixed feelings. I'm not happy he died. I would have rather seen him go to court."

While she and the rest of the family would have rather seen Chavez go to trial, she did acknowledge that sitting through a trial, listening to testimony and seeing the evidence of her sister and niece's killing would have been difficult.

"I feel bad for his family. They had nothing to do with what happened them," Romero-Aragonez said. "I am angry that the other people in the house didn't try to help."

During the initial investigation of the shootings, Robb said there were two other women who lived at the home on 11th Street, but they were not involved in the altercation and were not injured.

"The kind of person I am, I would try to protect other people. I understand the fear, but they are still out there walking free and all sister went for was a cell phone," Romero-Aragonez said.

Romero-Aragonez said she didn't know why Chavez would commit suicide, but speculated that possibly his conscious finally got the better of him.

She also says she has forgiven the man who took the lives of her family members

"I do forgive Matt because I have to pay God at the end on Judgement Day. I have to deal with my consequences. I prayed for him and asked God to bless him. But I hate what he did to my family," she said. "It's been almost two years now in January and we all still suffer. We were hoping to get closure with the court sentencing. Who knows what kind of closure we're going to get now."

Matthew Chavez was indicted in February 2012, on two charges each of first-degree murder, possession of a firearm or destructive device by a felon, and possession of a controlled substance, and one charge each of aggravated fleeing from a law enforcement officer and receiving or transferring stolen motor vehicles.

The most recent activity on his case was a Sept. 24 order finding him competent to stand trial.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.