Dateline   |  September 20, 2013

'The Officer's Wife' part 3

Tera Chavez's death is ruled a suicide, but her family has questions.  The detective on the case starts to investigate.  Could her death have been a homicide?

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> family and friends awoke to a piercing sadness in this new mexico community. tera chavez, the wife of a police officer , had committed suicide .

>> i laid there and cried, i couldn't believe it. i mean, somebody that i talked to almost every day is gone and you don't know why, you don't understand it. it doesn't make sense.

>> when levi 's uncle michael tried to help his nephew that next morning, he says he saw a broken man.

>> i went and saw levi , he was in bed and i just didn't know what to say. it is the worst thing that could happen to anybody.

>> what did levi say to you that day, do you remember?

>> he didn't say -- he was too emotional. he couldn't speak.

>> but along with the shock, tera's best friend was overcome with a sense of disbelief.

>> part of me was like no, this isn't right, this isn't what happened, like they're lying, it's not true.

>> and that's exactly what tera's parents were telling the detectives that had come to their home with that terrible news. for one thing, they told him there was simply no way tera would leave her children. you would not be the first one, family of a loved one that didn't want to believe it was suicide.

>> i knew tera. i knew tera.

>> what about the depressed person who emerges from that diary police found at the scene? tera's family points out that many of the darker passages in that journal were several years old.

>> her journal i think was an outlet for her to vent sometimes.

>> gina is her sister-in-law.

>> i am married, i have kids. sometimes i just want to disappear and it doesn't mean that i'm going to harm myself in any way.

>> and the very last entry, three months before her death, suggests tera was in fact the opposite of depressed. tera wrote good-bye to the person i used to be, welcome new day. happiness!

>> i think the last statement that was in her diary said it all, happiness.

>> and her family says she had lots to be happy about. tera was finally making plans to open that new hair salon she had long dreamed of. she was even starting to look at real estate.

>> she was so excited to do it.

>> gina says tera had an appointment to look at this location with her dad scheduled for two days after her death.

>> she was thinking about how she was going to decorate, how it was going to be girly, she was really excited about it.

>> that's the tera her brother aaron saw all the time, and he says just two days before she died, tera sent him this funny video of her kids.

>> they were dancing around the shop, being goofy, joking around, it was pretty funny actually.

>> nothing on that video suggests she was in a miserable place.

>> a second on that video that you see her, she's laughing because her daughter and her little boy are just being goof balls , you know.

>> and tera's best friend melanie reread the last text tera sent her around that same time and saw nothing frightening.

>> she just said hi, i haven't talked to you all day, how are you doing?

>> doesn't sound like someone in the middle of a terrible depression.

>> not at all.

>> could you conceive of her taking her own life?

>> not the tera i knew, i never would have in a million years ever seen or expected or thought that she would ever take her life.

>> melanie and the cordovas say something was wrong in that suicide scene at the house, and they let detective jones know it.

>> i talked to aaron jones , i don't think he believed you.

>> i'm sure he didn't.

>> it looked like a suicide to them.

>> that's correct.

>> but something you said to him or some way you said it made him think that he needed to dig a little deeper.

>> yes.

>> i promised tera's mom and dad that i would look at it. i knew i couldn't just close this case out without looking at it and digging into it.

>> to begin with jones knew from experience that bedroom scene was very unusual. just 10% of gun suicides are committed by women and he wondered about the recent break-in attempt and levi 's stolen truck. had someone been casing the neighborhood, targeting the officer's house?

>> i wanted to check and make sure there wasn't any indication of any kind of break-in or that maybe somebody else had done this.

>> but nothing seemed to be missing from the house and jones could find no sign of forced entry . still, he went back to the photos from the bedroom, started noticing things like what appeared to be a swipe of blood on the bed.

>> what could that smear of blood on the bed sheets indicate?

>> it could indicate the fact that she didn't commit suicide and the fact that the person that fired that fatal round would have had blood on their hands.

>> and the detective remembered something else from that night that now struck him as odd. a red substance in a toilet from the other side of the house. was it tera's blood? and if so, how did it get there?

>> you're in a situation where someone died, they certainly didn't get out of bed and go bleed in the toilet.

>> jones also focused closely on the gun and noticed patterns of blood on it. to the detective, it looked like whoever had fired it had to be left handed .

>> the areas of the gun that didn't have blood on them.

>> like a perfect hand print. looked like a perfect hand print of a human hand.

>> a left hand .

>> yes.

>> tera was right handed.

>> yes.

>> was it suicide or could it be homicide? jones turned all of it over in his mind. he even handled the gun himself.

>> you physically put a glock in your own house?

>> yeah.

>> unloaded i hope?

>> of course.

>> the medical examiner, however, had ruled tera's death a suicide the day after she was found. and the lid on this case might have shut then and there. but jones hesitated.

>> it was ruled a suicide. unless i found something pretty contradictory to that, my job was to write it up as a suicide and close the case.

>> and why didn't you?

>> just couldn't do it. just something about it, things about it started stinking.

>> after three weeks of investigation, instead of closing the case jones asked the medical to change the manner of death from suicide to undetermined. now the hard part, determining what really happened to tera chavez.