Dateline   |  September 20, 2013

'The Officer's Wife' part 9

Levi's defense attorney presents the case that Levi didn't kill his wife.  An expert comes to court to show how she pulled that trigger to kill herself, but his demonstration backfires.

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

>>> it seemed all of albuquerque was transfixed by the narrative that was the levi chavez trial. prosecutors argued the former police officer killed his wife and staged it to look like a suicide. now it was the defense 's turn. their first argument, the reason investigators initially thought tera committed suicide , was because she did. defense attorney david serna .

>> it was called a suicide because their own investigators whose job it is to go and see what kind of death it is called it a suicide.

>> stating what he knew the jury must have been thinking, serna admitted levi was a failure as a husband, but said that didn't make him a murderer.

>> he was completely unfaithful to her.

>> in just about every way.

>> absolutely.

>> just about every opportunity.

>> absolutely. but you know, he talks about tera being his partner. she was his partner because they had gone through so much, they had had children together.

>> all along levi 's family felt the investigation into tera's death was flawed and fueled by an obsessed detective.

>> when one theory came up and it didn't pan out, then he had another theory. i think in police work you've got to have evidence, you have to have something that we can hold onto.

>> in a series of testy exchanges, the defense tried to discredit aaron jones on the stand.

>> world class cop thought maybe you were clairvoyant as well.

>> i am working on it.

>> i bet you are. i have no doubt of that.

>> he grilled jones about his work history. turns out he had been fired twice, formally reprimanded for his handling of cases, including one that caused jones to be written up as unfit for duty.

>> basically found you in a five page written report mentally unfit to be a police officer , right?

>> that's what he ultimately said, yes.

>> jones was later found fit to serve and left law enforcement voluntarily. but the defense argued his troubled record cast a cloud over all his police work.

>> how important was it to sort of chip away at aaron jones ' credibility?

>> it was absolutely necessary, it was absolutely necessary that the jury see aaron jones for what he is.

>> remember jones ' theory that the blood pattern showed the shooter was left-handed while tera is right-handed? that theory never made it into court because it couldn't be backed up with forensics. and that insurance policy covering suicide that jones found suspicious? the defense showed it was an old policy that had been in place for years through levi 's military service .

>> my client never changed the amounts or coverage or clauses or anything of his insurance policy , right?

>> i didn't know that then.

>> and to cast more doubt on jones ' investigation, the defense suggested he never really took a serious look at tera's lover and his former buddy, nick wheeler .

>> so they never got, never took your dna. did they take fingerprint exemplars from you?

>> no, sir.

>> in the end, the sheriff's department concluded there was no evidence that nick wheeler or his wife had anything to do with tera's death. as for rose slama.

>> i had an itch and he scratched it and that's it.

>> serna argued rose couldn't be trusted, in fact, she was facing felony charges of her own.

>> you were arrested for fraud over $2500, right?

>> yes, sir.

>> and forgery over $2500, right?

>> yes, sir.

>> the defense suggested rose made up the levi stories, hoping for leniency with her own legal problems, which she says all stem from a messy divorce. she would later plead out lesser charges and get probation. but rose swears all her testimony was the truth.

>> i got no deal. i testified because it was the right thing to do.

>> and the rest of the parade of mistresses? the defense argued those women only bolstered levi 's case, proving he was a lousy husband in a crumbling marriage, which gave tera ample reason to be depressed, even suicidal.

>> he wasn't a good husband and he wasn't there and he didn't respond when she was making these cries for help. and he feels horrible.

>> the defense 's suicide expert, dr. allen berman testified all the evidence pointed to tera taking her own life.

>> she had a number of both chronic and acute risk factors for suicide.

>> he read tera's diary, saw a woman that felt alone, abandoned, angry, and trapped.

>> when he hurts me again, i just hope it will kill me because emotionally i will not survive.

>> and the i'm sorry note left on tera's bedside table? dr. berman said the note was too ambiguous for him to call it a suicide note . but the ripped up page found buried in the garbage, the expert said that had the hallmarks of a real suicide note .

>> the line i hope you'll be happy now is something we sometimes see in suicide notes.

>> originally the state suspected both notes were forgeries, but their own handwriting expert confirmed tera wrote both of them.

>> so you came back with an opinion that tera wrote both of these so-called suicide notes?

>> i don't know what kind of notes they are, sir, but they're those notes, yes.

>> one thing to keep in mind, no expert on either side could say when those notes were written. that day tera died, years earlier? no way to tell. but the weekend tera died, the defense said there was more evidence of her spiraling out of control. she called levi 315 times. and that's the reason levi shut off his phone, not to escape detection, but to escape his wife.

>> he doesn't want to be having his wife bugging him, bugging him, bugging him when he's, you know, hanging out at his mistress' house.

>> or doesn't want anyone to know where he is.

>> look at this, the prosecution's theory is that he knew about all of these cell phone tower pings. he didn't know about that at all.

>> there isn't a police officer in america doesn't know about that.

>> well, he doesn't know that there's going to be a trail of where he is every minute. i got to tell you, levi is not a criminal master mind .

>> that still left the question of how tera could have shot herself and then partially released the gun magazine. the defense hired a crime scene expert to make this video, demonstrating how they believe it could be done. but when he came to court to do the same demonstration in person, he failed.

>> the gun is cocked. you work the trigger, get around to the magazine release . sometimes i can, and sometimes i can't. sometimes you can get the magazine released, after you fire the gun. today i can't.

>> there are smiles on your faces when that happens.

>> actually, there were.

>> it was a high five moment for the prosecution.

>> did you think when that's happening, this is like the greatest thing.

>> oh, absolutely, and the fact that he gets up there to show how his theory would work and is unable to do it, you know, once again, went absolutely to what we were saying, she could not have killed herself.

>> would that one mistake cost levi his freedom? the defense attorney didn't think so because he had another strategy, a surprising and risky move.

>> defense calls levi chavez .

>>> coming up, levi chavez takes