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“Dateline” correspondent Josh Mankiewicz has covered true crime for more than 25 years. During that time, many stories have left indelible impressions.
That includes the case of 26-year-old Tera Chavez, whose death by gunshot in 2007 in New Mexico was initially believed to be a suicide. But eventually her husband, a cop named Levi Chavez, was charged with murder.
“In one moment, a family is shattered,” Mankiewicz observed. “And over time, an entire community’s secrets would be revealed.”
Indeed, they were. Before the case was resolved, clandestine love affairs — some with other police officers — came to light for both Levi and Tera. And in the end, there was a stunning courtroom decision.
In Season 2 of “Dateline: Unforgettable,” premiering Tuesday, June 7 on Oxygen, Mankiewicz looks back at the case. The “Dateline” story, first aired in September 2013 in an episode called “The Officer’s Wife” and as it re-airs, Mankiewicz explains why it stays with him.
Know the victim
Tera grew up in a loving family in the village of Los Lunas, New Mexico, with her twin brother, Josh, and younger brother, Aaron. She was always drawn to art, along with drawing and poetry. She met Levi Chavez when they were both teens. Married in 2000, they had two young children.
A crumbling marriage, a deadly gunshot
Tera worked at a beauty salon, while Levi was an officer with the Albuquerque Police Department. But the couple was unhappy — in fact, their marriage was collapsing, according to cbsnews.com and other sources.
On the morning of Oct. 22, 2007, Levi said he came home in Los Lunas and found his wife dead in bed from a gunshot to her mouth. “Please tell them to hurry!” the 26-year-old can be heard saying in his 911 call, PEOPLE reported.
M.E. rules the death self-inflicted
The medical examiner ruled Tera’s death a suicide. The gun she used was her husband’s service revolver, a semi-automatic 9mm Glock. Following a reported robbery of the couple’s truck, Levi left that gun home for his wife’s protection, he claimed.
But although some said distress and depression about her failing marriage could have led to suicide, members of her family didn’t accept that theory and maintained that Tera was ready to leave her sinking marriage.
Sordid secrets emerge
As the investigation unfolded, sordid details of Levi’s extramarital affairs began to emerge, one after another. In fact, the night before the fatal shooting, Levi said he was at his girlfriend’s house, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
More salacious stories came out about Levi having affairs with co-workers and acquaintances.
“Witnesses testified that Tera Chavez also had an affair with a police officer who was married to the maid of honor at her wedding,” reported nbcnews.com.
A husband booked for murder
Investigators came to view Tera’s death as suspicious — and Levi, who remarried less than seven months after Tera’s death, was the main suspect. On April 7, 2011 2011, charges were brought against Levi for killing his wife and staging the crime to look like a suicide.
But the story wasn't over there. Instead, it culminated in a courtroom shocker.
To learn more about the case, watch “Dateline: Unforgettable,” premiering Tuesday, June 7 on Oxygen.
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