ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A philandering former Albuquerque police officer and his family were jubilant and thankful when he was acquitted of killing his wife. But the legal troubles of Levi Chavez are not over.
He still faces a wrongful death lawsuit from the family of his late wife Tera Chavez — a case that could include testimony that was prohibited during his murder trial and involves an alleged motive and his wife's fear of him.
Brad Hall, an attorney representing the estate of Tera Chavez, said after Tuesday's acquittal that her family was evaluating all their options regarding the lawsuit that was put on hold pending the murder trial.
"There is no particular hurry, and the same evaluation will take place, no matter whether the criminal case was 'win, lose or draw' for any particular party," Hall said in an email to The Associated Press.
Defense attorney David Serna said he likely won't represent Levi Chavez in the civil case. But during the criminal trial, he blasted the lawsuit as a way to create "a subpoena machine" and said it was largely the result of a former detective working to discredit Levi Chavez.
"There never was a case against Levi Chavez," Serna said. "This was a made-up pile of lies from the beginning and it took the jury approximately 10 hours to find that out."
Chavez, 32, did not answer reporters' questions about the civil case after the verdict. It was unclear if he has hired another attorney to handle the matter.
The acquittal ended the monthlong murder trial that detailed the multiple affairs of Levi Chavez — some with police co-workers — and the couple's troubled marriage.
The trial also disclosed alleged missteps by investigators, with testimony that Albuquerque police officers who responded to the Chavez home in nearby Los Lunas removed and even flushed key evidence down a toilet.
Jurors were not permitted to hear evidence from court documents that 26-year-old Tera Chavez allegedly told relatives months before her death that "if anything ever happens to me, Levi did it."
Other barred evidence from the documents alleged that Tera Chavez told friends that her husband and his "cop buddies" had staged the theft of his 2004 Ford F-250 truck as part of an insurance scam.
Her family claims Levi Chavez killed her, in part, to keep her from disclosing that plan.
While blocking the testimony from the criminal case, District Judge George P. Eichwald ruled that prosecutors did not present an argument compelling enough to overcome the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses about their statements.
Prosecutors had planned to introduce testimony from friends and family members of Tera Chavez about her statements, but the judge noted there would be no way for the defense to question Tera Chavez — the source of that information.
Lawyers for the family are likely to try to call those witnesses during the civil trial to testify about the statements of Tera Chavez. However, defense attorneys could urge a judge to block that testimony, and it's unclear if it would be permitted.
The city of Albuquerque was also named in the lawsuit and has paid $230,000 to the family of Tera Chavez to settle claims involving the city and its police department.
The lawsuit is scheduled to be heard in state District Court in Bernalillo County. A hearing date has not been set. The family is seeking undisclosed damages.
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