Tera Chavez was just 26 years old when she was found dead of a gunshot wound on October 22, 2007. Her husband Levi Chavez, a police officer with the Albuquerque Police Department, was the one who called 911 and told them she’d committed suicide. However, as Dateline NBC explored on its episode “The Officer’s Wife,” investigators had questions about her death, especially as the gun used was Levi Chavez’s department-issued firearm.
On the 911 call, Levi Chavez can be heard crying and saying “Please tell them to hurry!” Her death was ruled a suicide by the medical examiner, but investigators began thinking it might have been a homicide and the cause of death was changed to undetermined, PEOPLE reported. While Levi Chavez has maintained his innocence and that his wife committed suicide, her family has remained firm in their belief that she was killed, Alibi reported.
Here’s what you need to know about Tera Chavez’s death:
1. Tera Chavez Was Found Dead of a Gunshot Wound on the Morning of October 22, 2007
Levi Chavez said he came home on October 22, 2007, and found his wife dead from a gunshot wound from his service weapon, PEOPLE wrote. At first, her death was believed to be a suicide, but an investigation turned up some information about Levi Chavez’s life that made them look deeper into the case. For instance, detectives said that the night before the young mother’s death, Levi Chavez was at his girlfriend’s house, according to PEOPLE.
They also said he’d had other affairs, including with some of the neighbors and other Albuquerque police officers. Detective Aaron Jones with the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office said he found Tera Chavez’s diary, which detailed her despair and, in more recent times, her hopes for the future and her decision to leave her husband.
A month after Tera Chavez’s death, her husband was placed on leave at the Albuquerque Police Department as the investigation into her death continued, KOAT reported. Investigators eventually deemed her death to be suspicious and Levi Chavez became the primary suspect, especially after he remarried less than seven months following his first wife’s death.
The investigation took many years, with a search warrant served at Levi Chavez’s home in August 2009, by which time the case was deemed a homicide. Then, on April 7, 2011, the police officer was charged with Tera Chavez’s murder, arrested and fired from his job with the police department, KOAT wrote.
2. Levi Chavez Was Charged With His Wife’s Murder Years Later & His New Wife & Mistresses Testified
As mentioned, Levi Chavez was charged with her murder in April 2011, but it took another two years for the case to go to court due to a series of motion hearings, civil trials and a change of venue for the trial, KOAT reported. The murder trial eventually took place in the summer of 2013 and lasted a total of 21 days of testimony and two days of deliberation, KOAT wrote.
Levi Chavez testified during his trial that he had a series of mistresses but reiterated that he did not kill his wife. His new wife, Heather Hindi, who was one of his fellow officers, also testified on the stand. The two had gotten engaged just two months after Tera Chavez’s death and prosecutors asked questions about how quickly Levi Chavez had moved on. Hindi, along with other women Levi Chavez had been involved with, testified during the trial about their affairs, Star Tribune reported.
Hindi said on the stand that she’d never met Tera Chavez, but she went to her funeral and helped move her things out of the family home after her death, footage from the trial shows. The court also heard that Hindi had been texting Levi Chavez just three weeks after his wife’s death and suggesting that the two get married. They married in July 2008, just a few days after Hindi’s divorce from another Albuquerque police officer was finalized.
3. Levi Chavez Was Found Not Guilty of His Wife’s Death in 2013 & Later Filed a Civil Suit Against Investigator Aaron Jones
In July 2013, Levi Chavez was found not guilty of first-degree murder. He told reporters, “I’m not surprised at all. I’m not guilty. I’m innocent. I told you guys that from the beginning. I knew I’d be acquitted. I didn’t do anything wrong,” KOAT reported.
Levi Chavez eventually filed a federal lawsuit against Aaron Jones, who was a detective with the Valencia County Sheriff’s Department at the time of Tera’s death and was one of the first on the scene. Levi Chavez alleged “malicious prosecution, malicious abuse of process, defamation, and outrageous conduct,” according to court documents. The lawsuit against Jones was dismissed in 2018.
Tera Chavez’s parents say the entire legal process has been difficult because they want to continue to be in their grandchildren’s lives but they also want Tera’s kids to know she didn’t commit suicide. “One day, [the kids] are going to be of age, and they’re going to want to know,” her father told Alibi. Her mother said she wants the kids to know, “She’d never leave them. She’d never leave them of her own will. She didn’t leave them.”
4. Tera Got Pregnant by Levi Chavez at Age 15 & They Married a Few Years Later
When she was just 15 years old, Tera met Levi Chavez and became pregnant with his child, Alibi reported. Although her parents said they were shocked at the news, they “turned it around to a positive.” The teenager and her baby continued to live at the Cordova family home for two years, her mother Theresa Cordova said. “We raised Andrea as a family.”
The young couple married in 2000 even though their relationship was already facing some problems, her brothers said. Tera Chavez moved to Virginia to be with her husband after graduating, as he’d been posted there with the Coast Guard and the young woman was soon pregnant again with their second child, Alibi reported. Joseph Cordova, Tera’s father, told the outlet, “The culture which we grew up in, his family was from law enforcement. We always thought, ‘He’ll take care of her.'”
A few years later, the family of four moved back to New Mexico, where Levi Chavez became a police officer with the Alburquerque Police Department and Tera Chavez started going to barber college. Her family said they knew there was trouble in the relationship and they had heard Levi Chavez was cheating on his wife, Alibi reported.
However, things began turning around for the mother of two when she began making plans to leave her husband and open a salon of her own, her family said. Tera Chavez had been looking for a business space to rent for her salon and had an appointment to meet a landlord just two days after the day she died, Alibi wrote.
5. Tera Chavez Was Remembered as an Artistic & Quiet Woman With Close Family Ties
Tera Chavez’s mother, Theresa Cordova, said her daughter was an artist, according to a feature on Chavez’s life in Alibi. “She liked to draw, and she liked to write poetry,” she recalled. “She was quiet. She was an indoor girl, kind of girly. Her room was the best room in the house to walk into because it smelled so good.”
She had a twin brother, named Josh, who said, “She was my lifeline. She was my secret-bank. She knew every single secret about me no matter what.” Chavez also had a younger brother, Aaron. She grew up in Los Lunas, a small village south of Alburquerque. Her father, Joseph Cordova, said she loved flowers and drew some all over the house.
Her twin brother described her as a strong woman and a loving mother. “Strict, but in a good way,” he said. “You could pretty much put her through the wringer, and she’d still love you like it never happened. She loved hard. She loved strong.”