His chest out, his shoulders back, Levi Chavez strode
briskly away from the state district courthouse here on Wednesday a free man.
"I'm not surprised," the 32-yearold former Albuquerque police officer told a throng of reporters from behind a pair of sunglasses. "I'm not guilty. I'm innocent. I told you guys that from the beginning."
Minutes earlier, at 4:35 p.m., state District Judge George P. Eichwald took two verdict forms from his bailiff and read the news to a packed courtroom: "We, the jury, find the defendant, Levi Chavez, not guilty of first-degree murder."
It was the official end to a long-running courtroom drama that captivated New Mexicans and drew national attention. Some national media called Chavez "Casanova Cop" due to his many mistresses, a key factor in his defense that his wife committed suicide because she was depressed over his serial affairs.
Reaction in the courtroom Tuesday reflected the gravity of the moment and the nearly six years since Chavez learned that he was under investigation for the death of Tera Chavez.
Levi Chavez did the sign of the cross, then shared an intense hug with his attorney, David Serna.
Friends and members of his family gasped audibly, began to weep, embraced each other and said: "Thank Jesus" as Eichwald read the same verdict -- "not guilty" -- on a second form, which asked jurors whether they believed Chavez committed evidence tampering.
On the other side of the courtroom, where Tera Chavez's friends and family sat, there were a few tears, too.
More so, there was visible anger, disappointment and exhaustion.
Before reading the verdict, Eichwald acknowledged the jangled vibes, which had been present in his courtroom for much of the five-week trial -- particularly on the day when Levi Chavez, in a move that surprised many, took the stand in his own defense.
"I've been observing throughout the trial a lot of animosity," Eichwald said. "You can cut the tension with a knife in here."
Eichwald instructed Tera's family to leave the courtroom first after the verdict was read and asked the Chavez family to wait a few minutes before departing.
Tera's family left quickly, as the judge was telling Levi Chavez that he was "released of all (his) obligations to this court."
Outside, members of Tera's family declined to comment until, just as he was getting into his car to drive away, Tera's father, Joseph Cordova, answered "no" to a reporter who asked whether the Cordovas were feeling any closure.
Then he added: "Justice was not served" and left with his wife, Theresa Cordova.
A short time later, Levi Chavez walked out of the courthouse surrounded by cameras, reporters and family members. When he arrived at his own car, a reporter asked what he plans to do now.
"I'm going to go to church, pray my rosary and thank my Virgin Mary," he said. "There's a lot of good things coming my way."
The charges were leveled against Chavez in April 2011. That's when prosecutors from the 13th Judicial District Attorney's Office charged in a two-count indictment that he had shot Tera Chavez, 26, once in the mouth on Oct. 19, 20 or 21, 2007, in the couple's home near Los Lunas and tried to make it look like a suicide.
During closing arguments last week, Senior Trial Attorney Bryan McKay narrowed
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