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Matthew Chavez

Other New Mexico exonerations
On February 5, 2017, 24-year-old Tyler Lackey, who was home on leave from the military, joined his friend, Justin Overton, for dinner at a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After their meal, Lackey wanted to get cash to leave a tip, so he and Overton went to a nearby Wells Fargo cash station near the intersection of Yale and Gibson Boulevards Southeast.

Overton later told police that he remained in Lackey’s truck. As Lackey approached the ATM, he noticed a man wearing a bandana over his face walking behind him. Suspecting the man intended to rob him, Lackey drew a .380-caliber pistol and confronted the man.

The man retreated to a red and white car where Lackey confronted him. Overton got out of the truck and pulled out a knife. Seconds later, gunshots erupted. Lackey fell to the pavement, shot once in the chest and once in the abdomen. The car sped off.

Lackey was pronounced dead at the scene. A single .380-caliber shell casing was found near his body.

Overton told police that there was a woman in the front passenger seat of the car.

Less than an hour later and nearly five miles away, Russell and Barbara Munk were startled by an explosion in the alley behind their home at 809 Truman Street Northwest. Barbara Munk said she saw two men run down the alley, but could not identify them.

Firefighters were summoned and found a car ablaze. The fire was extinguished, but the car was badly damaged. Police determined the car had been stolen. Because it resembled the car that fled from the shooting at the ATM, it was towed in by police for further investigation.

Three days later, Albuquerque police received information from the Bernalillo County sheriff’s department pointing to 25-year-old Matthew Chavez as a possible suspect.

On March 8, 2017, Chavez and his girlfriend, Veronica Trimble, were arrested in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Trimble agreed to speak to police and admitted that she was in the car when Lackey was shot and that Chavez had shot him. She also said that after the shooting, Chavez called a friend to help him set the car ablaze. Though she admitted she didn’t actually see them set the car on fire, she recounted how they purchased gasoline, and she waited in the friend’s car while they walked into an alley and soon after ran out. Chavez’s gun was never recovered.

Chavez was charged with first-degree murder during an attempted robbery, conspiracy to tamper with evidence and evidence tampering. Trimble initially was charged in the crime, but after she agreed to testify for the prosecution, the charges were dismissed.

On September 21, 2018, Chavez went to trial in Bernalillo County District Court. The defense claimed that Chavez shot in self-defense after Lackey shot at him first. The prosecution contended that Chavez shot Lackey when Lackey tried to keep Chavez from leaving following a foiled robbery attempt. According to the prosecution, Lackey never fired his weapon. Lackey had a concealed carry permit for his gun.

Eduardo Aguila testified that he was driving to the ATM with his girlfriend when he saw Lackey at the ATM and a man behind him. “And that’s when I thought something is happening here,” Aguila testified. He said that instead of turning into the ATM parking lot, he pulled into an adjacent International House of Pancakes parking lot. “At that point, I knew something was happening.”

Aguila said he lost sight of Lackey while he asked a passerby to borrow his cell phone. When the person refused, Aguila stopped his car. Aguila testified that he saw the man who had been behind Lackey go back to a red and white car, followed by Lackey who was holding a pistol.

Aguila said he then saw Lackey standing by the red and white car, “presumably trying to get the man to stay there or to get out of the car. That's when I heard about five gunshots, and the red car took off,” Aguila said. “[I]t was red and white; I remember that perfectly.”

Aguila said he drove to the ATM lot and began putting pressure on Lackey’s wounds. Overton was on his cell phone, but struggling to give the precise address to a 911 operator. Aguila’s girlfriend took the phone from Overton and gave the address to the operator.

During cross-examination, Aguila said that Chavez had already gotten into the car with Trimble by the time Lackey drew his pistol.

Randy Ulibarri testified that he was living in a camping trailer while working on a construction site across the street. He said that when some bright lights shone through the camper, he looked outside and saw a car parked near the back door of a Little Caesars pizza restaurant which was adjacent to the ATM. He said that when he got up to use the portable bathroom on the site, he saw a woman get out of the car and go into the restaurant. He said he saw a man in the car who was “trying on a mask. It looked like a skeleton head or a skull.”

Ulibarri said he went back into his camper and looked out. He said the car had been moved closer to the ATM. He said he closed the curtains, but then heard loud yelling. He said he called 911 “because it sounded so loud…like it was going to turn into something more.”

Ulibarri said he heard Lackey say, “You want me to give you my what? That ain’t going to happen.” Ulibarri said Chavez got into the car as Lackey and Overton approached and stood outside the driver’s side of the car containing Chavez and Trimble.

“There was arguing, scuffling…they had their hands inside the car,” he said. “It kept going like that until I saw a muzzle flash, and then two more muzzle flashes…I saw one muzzle flash outside the vehicle and then two more for sure coming from inside.”

Ulibarri admitted that during his initial statement to police on the night of the shooting, he said that the first shot was fired from inside the car. During cross-examination, however, Ulibarri said, “I’m positive the first shot came from outside the car.” The defense played a recording of Ulibarri’s call to 911 during which Ulibarri said the first shot came from outside the car.

Overton testified that he was waiting in Lackey’s truck while Lackey approached the ATM. During his testimony, the prosecution played surveillance videos from the ATM as well as from Little Caesars Pizza. Overton identified Chavez and described how, after Lackey turned and confronted him, Chavez began retreating to his car.

Overton said Chavez said several times, “We were just playing…We were just joking.” Overton said he believed Chavez was saying that as a ruse to get away because Lackey had drawn his gun. Overton said he got out of the truck, pulled out his knife and joined Lackey in at the driver’s side door of Chavez’s car.

“At that point, after Mr. Lackey had told him to get out of the vehicle, which Mr. Chavez refused…the conversation was very short, very brief,” Overton said. He quoted Lackey as saying “[O]ver and over. It was like a broken record for the most part. ‘Get out of the vehicle. Get out of the vehicle.’"

Overton said Chavez repeatedly said in response: "We're just kidding. We're just playing. We're just playing."

Assistant District Attorney Nicholas McDonnell asked, “Did you see Tyler's gun go off at all?”

“No,” Overton said.

“Did you see Mr. Chavez's gun go off?” McDonnell asked.

“Yes,” Overton said.

“Did it absolutely discharge before he sped off? McDonnell asked.

“Yes,” Overton testified.

“Now, when did you first see the gun, Mr. Chavez's gun?” McDonnell asked.

“I saw the gun maybe two seconds before he fired,” Overton said. “At that point, it was already too late.” He said he was “absolutely certain” that Lackey did not fire his gun.

Defense attorney Martin Juarez cross-examined Overton about when he saw Chavez get his gun.

“[T] o be clear, you did not see a gun in Matthew Chavez's hand while he was at the ATM?” Juarez asked. “Yes,” Overton said.

“And that's because you saw him remove it when he was back in the car, from the center console, correct?” Juarez asked.

“Correct,” Overton said.

Trimble testified that on the day of the crime, she and Chavez had used heroin and methamphetamine. They drove to the Little Caesars because Chavez was “looking for money.” She said he asked her to go inside the pizza restaurant to see if any of his friends were working there. She said that when she came out, she told him while his friends were not working that night, there were families with children inside and not to think about robbing the restaurant.

Trimble said Chavez started to pull out of the lot, but then saw Lackey’s truck pull in. She said Chavez got out and walked toward the ATM until she lost sight of him.

“I heard yelling, and then I saw Matthew [come] back to the car and get into the car,” Trimble said. “Matthew got into the driver’s seat, the door remained open and the man from the ATM was coming with a gun…The other person had a gun and was holding it to Matthew and telling him to get out of the car. And then Matthew was saying, ‘No, I was just playing. Just let us leave. Just let us leave.’”

Trimble continued. “And the other guy kept saying, ‘No. Get out of the car. Get out of the car,’ and he was holding the gun to Matthew. And then the other guy's friend got out of that truck and came also, and he had his knife out. And he was by the back door of the car. And they were both trying to get Matthew out of the car.”

She said that Lackey said, "So you think you're going to rob me." Asked if Lackey fired first, Trimble was equivocal. “I don't know where they came from first. So, yes, no, I don't think he did.”

Assistant District Attorney David Waymire asked, “You don't think that Mr. Lackey fired first?”

“No,” Trimble said.

Trimble said that at one point, she tried to push over the console to put part of her body to shield Chavez. She said she yelled that she was pregnant in an attempt to de-escalate the confrontation. Waymire pointed to Trimble’s statement to police which said, “The next thing I know, he–Matthew–pushes the gas and shoots him, starts shooting him."

Albuquerque police detective Leah Acata testified that she had reviewed the grainy surveillance videos, and that she believed it showed Chavez pulling a gun from underneath his jersey before he got back into the car.

An evidence technician testified that Lackey’s .380-caliber pistol had five live rounds and that the gun had the capacity to hold six rounds.

Prior to closing arguments, Chavez’s attorneys asked Judge Christina Jaramillo to give an instruction to the jury that would allow for a verdict of voluntary manslaughter, a charge which carries a lesser penalty than murder. The judge declined to give that instruction.

During closing arguments, the prosecution argued that Lackey never fired his gun and that Chavez shot him during the confrontation. The defense contended that the testimony showed that Lackey fired first and that Chavez fired in self-defense. The defense argued that the presence of five live rounds in Lackey’s gun showed that he had fired once.

On October 2, 2018, the jury acquitted Chavez of first-degree murder, but found him guilty of second-degree murder and evidence tampering. He was sentenced to 23 years and six months in prison.

In October 2021, the New Mexico Court of Appeals vacated Chavez’s convictions and ordered a new trial. The Court ruled that the trial judge should have given an instruction allowing the jury to convict Chavez of voluntary manslaughter. The Court also ruled that the trial judge erroneously allowed Detective Acata to testify that in her opinion, she could see Chavez carrying a gun before he got back into the car.

The prosecution petitioned the New Mexico Supreme Court, requesting a review of the appeals court decision. The petition was denied.

Maxwell Pines and Chelsea Van Deventer represented Chavez when the case was remanded. Just days prior to the retrial, they interviewed Overton, who admitted that he had testified falsely at the first trial when he said that Lackey never fired his weapon.

Chavez went to trial for a second time in April 2024.

Van Deventer told jurors in her opening statement: “Even though Matthew Chavez wanted to get money from Lackey, he very clearly was not looking for any real trouble.” Chavez “had no intention of using his gun,” she said. “He used his gun only because he had been shot at.”

During this trial, Overton testified that Lackey had pointed his gun at Chavez’s head as he sat in his car, before Lackey fired the first shot, which missed. Overton admitted he had not told the full story to police at the outset.

During closing arguments, Pines told the jury that Lackey “lost his cool” after Chavez came up behind him at the ATM and demanded money. Pines contended that Lackey became the aggressor when he pulled his .380-caliber pistol and followed Chavez to his car, where Lackey pointed his gun at Chavez’s head.

On May 6, 2024, the jury acquitted Chavez of second-degree murder as well as voluntary manslaughter. The jury did convict him of evidence tampering. Chavez was sentenced immediately to six years in prison on that conviction. He was released that day with credit for time served.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/12/2024
Last Updated: 6/12/2024
State:New Mexico
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2017
Sentence:23 years and 6 months
Age at the date of reported crime:26
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No