2 suspects in shooting of Cherokee Trail High School student set for trial

18-year-old pleaded not guilty to 1st-degree murder, other charges

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Two of the four teens suspected of driving to the home of a Cherokee Trail High School student in an incident that ended with the student's death are set to see trial in the next several months.

Demarea Deshawn Mitchell, 18, pleaded not guilty on Aug. 31 to first-degree felony murder, aggravated robbery, attempted aggravated robbery and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery, according to the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office.

A count of first-degree felony murder can be charged against anyone in a group that is allegedly involved in a serious crime in which a death occurs. The charge applies even if a particular member of the group is not believed to have directly caused the death.

Mitchell is one of the four suspected of driving to the home of Lloyd Alvin Chavez IV, 18, in east Centennial during what was planned as a robbery of vaping products Chavez sold, according to arrest affidavits. Chavez was fatally shot during the May 2019 incident.

Mitchell is scheduled for a trial starting Feb. 16, according to his defense attorney. The other remaining defendant, 18-year-old Kenneth Alfonso Gallegos, is set for trial starting Dec. 1.

Gallegos has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree felony murder, aggravated robbery and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery. The other suspects had been charged with the same crimes as Gallegos, according to the DA's office.

The other two suspects — Dominic Jarrod Stager, who is 18 or 19 based on sheriff's and court records, and 18-year-old Juliana Alexis Serrano — both had their criminal cases dismissed and were transferred to juvenile court, where they were to have a chance at more lenient sentences if convicted.

Two teens kept in adult court

At a two-day proceeding known as a “reverse transfer” hearing, held June 19 and July 2, attorneys dueled over whether Mitchell would also be placed in juvenile proceedings. They debated over how accountable the teen should be considered in light of his traumatic upbringing and his age of 16 — weeks away from 17 — at the time of the crime, if he is eventually convicted.

But Mitchell's development wasn't only defined by his age. Defense attorneys argues that he absorbed a life of trauma: experiencing homelessness, enduring the deaths of male role models around him and living with a mother who suffered abusive relationships,.

Mitchell also grew up without a long-term father figure or male role model, watching a “trend in his life of men in his life getting incarcerated or dying,” including being murdered, defense attorney Dan McGarvey said during the two-day hearing. Mitchell also experienced child abuse, the attorney added.

All of that added up to different traumatic impacts such as symptoms of depression, tendencies related to bipolar disorder, difficulty controlling anger and impulsiveness, Jessica Bartels, a psychologist who analyzed Mitchell, said in court July 2.

Ultimately, Arapahoe County District Court Judge Ben Leutwyler on July 14 denied the request to transfer the case to juvenile court. The court also denied a motion to have Gallegos' case transferred to juvenile court.

Timeline of incident

At the time of the incident, Serrano and Stager were students at Cherokee Trail, and Gallegos was a Grandview High School student who had recently transferred from Cherokee Trail. Mitchell was identified in photos provided by a Cherokee Trail school resource officer.

The prosecution pointed out in a prior court proceeding that data from Serrano's phone placed her at the scene between 9:18 and 9:27 p.m. on the night of the incident, and the shooting occurred about 9:25 p.m., according to the investigation. The prosecution also pointed out that Gallegos connected to Serrano's Wi-Fi hotspot signal after the shooting and that Stager's phone was tied to her hotspot at the time of the shooting and shortly after.

According to the affidavit, here's how the incident unfolded:

• Chavez had sold vape products in transactions arranged over Snapchat, the popular cellphone application. The four suspects intended to steal Chavez's vape “juice” in a plan that began a day or two before he was shot, Serrano told an investigator.

• The four suspects pulled up in a car at Chavez's home near East Smoky Hill Road and South Picadilly Street, where he walked up to a window of the car and received cash from Serrano. He walked away without giving them the product, Serrano said, and Mitchell got out of the car and questioned Chavez about it.

• Chavez threw Mitchell onto the lawn, according to Serrano's account, and that's when he was shot. Vape products were later found on Chavez's lawn and in his room.

• The suspects sped away and were in shock because they didn't intend to shoot Chavez but, rather, threaten him with the gun if he didn't give them the product, according to Serrano's account.

• Serrano eventually said she didn't actually see the gun in anyone's hands but described it as a “smaller gun” and saw a laser shining on Chavez around the time he was shot.

“There's testimony that Mr. Mitchell actually pointed the gun at Mr. Chavez prior to any kind of wrestling,” Leutwyler said during a Feb. 18 hearing. He added: “There is conflicting evidence as to who shot Mr. Chavez.”

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