State v. Chavez

Decision Date01 October 2021
Docket NumberA-1-CA-37888
Citation504 P.3d 541
Parties STATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Matthew CHAVEZ, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeals of New Mexico

Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General, Santa Fe, NM, Lauren J. Wolongevicz, Assistant Attorney General, Albuquerque, NM, for Appellee

Bennett J. Baur, Chief Public Defender, Santa Fe, NM, Steven J. Forsberg, Assistant Appellate Defender, Albuquerque, NM, for Appellant

IVES, Judge.

{1} This case involves an attempted robbery gone horribly awry. The State accused Defendant Matthew Chavez of, among other things, attempting to rob Tyler Lackey and then, in the fracas that ensued, murdering him. At trial, Defendant did not dispute that he shot and killed Mr. Lackey, and the State did not dispute that Mr. Lackey was pointing his own gun at Defendant immediately before Defendant shot Mr. Lackey. Defendant claimed he acted in self-defense and defense of another, but the jury rejected those claims and found him guilty of second degree murder.

{2} On appeal, Defendant argues that the district court erred by denying his request for a jury instruction on voluntary manslaughter. This error, Defendant claims, prevented the jury from deciding whether the killing was voluntary manslaughter—an act of imperfect self-defense—rather than murder. See generally State v. Abeyta , 1995-NMSC-051, ¶¶ 13-20, 120 N.M. 233, 901 P.2d 164 (explaining that a "claim of imperfect self-defense ... presents an issue of mitigating circumstances that may reduce murder to manslaughter"), abrogated on other grounds by State v. Campos , 1996-NMSC-043, ¶ 32 n.4, 122 N.M. 148, 921 P.2d 1266.

{3} We agree. New Mexico law required the district court to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter, and the court's failure to do so deprived Defendant of a fair trial. Whether Defendant committed voluntary manslaughter rather than murder was a question for the jury, and the district court erred by deciding, as a matter of law, that the killing was not voluntary manslaughter. This error requires us to reverse Defendant's second degree murder conviction, as well as his convictions for tampering with evidence of second degree murder and conspiracy to tamper with evidence, and to remand for a new trial for second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, tampering with evidence, and conspiracy to tamper with evidence.

{4} We also agree with Defendant that the district court erred by allowing a law enforcement officer to testify as to her opinion about whether a video recording showed that Defendant was carrying a firearm while trying to rob Mr. Lackey. Because this opinion testimony was not helpful to the trier of fact, it should not have been admitted.

{5} Finally, we reject Defendant's argument that all of the charges against him should have been dismissed with prejudice because his trial was untimely under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IAD).


{6} At trial, the State introduced video recordings of the encounter between Defendant and Mr. Lackey, which occurred in February 2016. The recordings do not include any audio, and the video is of limited use because of the camera perspectives and video quality. However, the videos collectively provide a general overview of what transpired.

{7} Defendant's girlfriend, Veronica Trimble, emerged from the front passenger door of an orange and white sedan that was backed into a parking space. Approximately two minutes later, Ms. Trimble returned to the car and got back into the passenger's seat, and a white pickup truck pulled into the parking lot and parked in a space parallel to an ATM at the end of the lot. As the truck's driver, Mr. Lackey, exited the vehicle and walked toward the ATM, the white and orange sedan pulled out of its parking space, drove across the lot toward the exit, and stopped perpendicular to the truck and the ATM, approximately two car lengths away. Defendant exited the car through the driver's door and walked toward the ATM, approaching Mr. Lackey from behind. Mr. Lackey looked over his left shoulder and then inserted his card into the ATM. He again turned to his left and looked behind him, where Defendant, wearing a mask, was standing. Defendant's left hand was in his pocket. Mr. Lackey turned toward Defendant and drew a handgun. Defendant returned to the car he had been driving and got back into the driver's seat, and Mr. Lackey pursued him with his gun drawn. The door on the driver's side of the car closed, then opened again, as Mr. Lackey and his companion, Justin Overton, stood near the driver's side door, with Mr. Lackey pointing his gun at Defendant all the while. Approximately one minute and twenty seconds later, Defendant drove away as Mr. Lackey fell to the ground.

{8} Although the police never found the gun that Defendant used to shoot Mr. Lackey, they did find a .380 semiautomatic pistol on the right side of Mr. Lackey's body, near his head. The pistol contained five R-P brand .380 bullets—one in the chamber and four in the magazine. A single R-P .380 bullet casing was found near Mr. Lackey's left foot.

{9} Mr. Lackey's autopsy confirmed that gunshot wounds caused his death. The medical examiner observed two bullet holes, one in Mr. Lackey's chest and another in his upper abdomen, and found two bullets lodged in his back. The examiner determined that the manner of death was homicide.

{10} Because Defendant conceded that he fired the fatal shots, the key questions at trial as to the killing were whether it was a crime at all and, if so, whether it was first degree murder or a less serious offense. The answers to those questions turned on exactly what happened during the encounter. To help the jury fill in the gaps left by the video recordings and physical evidence, the parties relied on the testimony of several witnesses. The most significant eyewitnesses for the purposes of this appeal were Mr. Overton, Ms. Trimble, and Randy Ulibarri, a construction supervisor who was spending the night at a nearby construction site. We summarize the testimony of each eyewitness in turn.

{11} Mr. Overton, who was Mr. Lackey's best friend, testified that shortly before the encounter with Defendant, the two men were eating dinner at a restaurant in Albuquerque and then drove to a nearby ATM to get money to tip the waitperson. When they arrived, Mr. Lackey parked the truck, got out, and approached the ATM to withdraw money. Mr. Overton testified that he did not see Defendant holding a gun at the ATM but that Defendant had his hands in his pockets and might have had a weapon in his pocket. Mr. Overton believed that Defendant was trying to rob Mr. Lackey and that Mr. Lackey was in danger. Mr. Lackey drew his .380 pistol, and Defendant ran back to his car, got inside, and closed the door, as Mr. Lackey followed him. From Mr. Overton's perspective, it did not appear that Defendant "was trying to get away" when he ran to his car. Mr. Overton believed that Mr. Lackey "was trying to stop" Defendant, not "trying to hurt" him.

{12} Mr. Overton testified that he exited the truck, approached the car, and, when Mr. Lackey was "fairly close to" the car with his gun pointed at Defendant, Mr. Overton brandished a pocketknife. Holding the knife at his side in order to protect his friend, Mr. Overton came within approximately three feet of Defendant. Mr. Lackey repeatedly yelled at Defendant, "Get out of the vehicle[!]" Mr. Lackey was in "the shooter stance[,]" pointing his gun at Defendant. Defendant repeatedly responded, "We're just kidding. We're just playing[,]" and Ms. Trimble made similar statements. Defendant removed a gun from the car's center console and, within seconds, fired it two or three times and quickly drove away. Before Defendant removed the gun from the console, Mr. Overton had a clear view of Defendant's hands and had not seen a gun. Mr. Overton testified that he was certain that Mr. Lackey did not fire his gun.

{13} Mr. Overton described Defendant's behavior during the interaction at the car as "very nonchalant" and insincere. Mr. Overton believed that Defendant and Ms. Trimble had kept the conversation going to distract Mr. Overton and Mr. Lackey so that Defendant could get the gun, fire it, and speed off. Although Mr. Overton did not think Mr. Lackey intended to hurt Defendant, and Mr. Overton did not intend to do so, Mr. Overton did not know whether Defendant believed that. Mr. Overton's direct testimony was that Defendant feigned fear; he "tr[ied] to get out of the situation by acting scared." But on cross-examination, Mr. Overton acknowledged that, during a pretrial interview, he had said that Defendant "appeared nervous and scared."

{14} Ms. Trimble testified about a slightly longer time period, beginning with what occurred before the encounter at the ATM—an explanation of what was happening in the video recording before Mr. Lackey approached the ATM. Ms. Trimble testified that Defendant had initially parked his car in the parking lot where the ATM was because he wanted to rob a nearby restaurant. While Defendant sat in the car, Ms. Trimble entered the restaurant and, upon returning to the car, told Defendant that there were customers, including children in the restaurant, and that she was concerned that someone might be harmed in a robbery. As Defendant began to pull out of the parking lot, Ms. Trimble noticed a truck parked at the ATM, and Defendant stopped the car near the ATM, got out of the car, and walked up behind Mr. Lackey, who was using the ATM.

{15} Ms. Trimble heard yelling and then saw Defendant return to the car and get inside. She did not see a gun in Defendant's hand at that time. Mr. Lackey pursued Defendant and pointed his gun at Defendant while Mr. Lackey and Mr. Overton, who was armed with a knife, repeatedly demanded that Defendant get out of the car. Both Mr. Lackey and Mr. Overton were angry; they were yelling and using profane language. Defendant did...

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    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • June 29, 2023
    ...level of the underlying offense due to some flaw or inadequacy in the jury instructions. See, e.g., State v. Chavez, 2022-NMCA-007, ¶ 34, 504 P.3d 541 (reversing tampering conviction where determination that tampering related to first or second degree murder was based on "incomplete instruc......

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