Social media messages appear to show the fourth suspect in the death of a Cherokee Trail High School student admitting involvement in the fatal shooting that took place in May, according to investigators.
A Snapchat account that appears to be that of 17-year-old Demarea Deshawn Mitchell received a message after the shooting from someone who expressed shock at hearing of the incident.
Things “didn't go as planned, and it was the only choice. I'm sorry,” Mitchell's apparent account wrote back.
He's one of the four teens suspected of driving to the home of Lloyd Alvin Chavez, 18, in east Centennial during what was planned as a robbery of vaping products Chavez sold, according to arrest affidavits.
Kenneth Alfonso Gallegos, who turned 18 in mid-December, had an arraignment set for Feb. 24. The court, on Oct. 25, denied a motion to have Gallegos' case transferred to juvenile court, where he would have had a chance at a more lenient sentence, if convicted.
Dominic Jarrod Stager, who is 17 or 18 based on sheriff's and court records, and 17-year-old Juliana Alexis Serrano both had their criminal cases dismissed and were transferred to juvenile court.
All four were originally being prosecuted as adults.
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 Snapchat messages came to light at a Feb. 18 preliminary hearing in Arapahoe County District Court, where evidence connected Mitchell to the shooting but didn't amount to confirmation that he pulled the trigger.
At a preliminary hearing, a judge decides whether there is enough evidence to take the case to trial — it doesn't decide whether a suspect is guilty.
The four suspects all were initially charged with first-degree felony murder, aggravated robbery, conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery and two “sentence enhancers” related to violent crime with a weapon and causing death, which apply if the case ends in a guilty plea or verdict, according to the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office.
Judge Ben Leutwyler ruled that three of Mitchell's charges can proceed to trial, including those related to felony murder and aggravated robbery, and that he will be held in jail without bond.
“There's testimony that Mr. Mitchell actually pointed the gun at Mr. Chavez prior to any kind of wrestling,” Leutwyler said. He added: “There is conflicting evidence as to who shot Mr. Chavez.”
The identity of a shooter in a group that allegedly causes a murder doesn't determine whether a defendant is guilty, Leutwyler noted. If a suspect played a part, that can qualify as first-degree felony murder.
Mitchell still awaits a hearing in mid-March that will determine if his case will move to juvenile court.
Mitchell's hearing shed more light on the history of the suspects in the May 8 shooting.
According to court affidavits, here's how that incident unfolded:
The four suspects pulled up to Chavez's home, where he walked up to a window of the car and received cash from Serrano, court documents say. The documents allege that Chavez 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. Chavez was a few inches taller than Mitchell and a bit heavier, according to court testimony Feb. 18. Chavez was an accomplished rugby player.
Before Chavez died during surgery at the hospital, he told a nurse and a sheriff's deputy that “Kenny” — Gallegos — shot him and that the shooter was a junior at Cherokee Trail, according to authorities. Serrano said it was Mitchell who shot Chavez.
At the Feb. 18 hearing, Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office Investigator Niki Bales testified that a close friend of Chavez said Gallegos and Gallegos' friends had jumped Chavez before and that Chavez had been robbed once before.
The investigator also testified that before the May incident where Chavez was shot, Gallegos would brag that he would rob vape shops and walks around “strapped” with a gun.
Stager told Bales that Gallegos asked if he could use Stager's gun. Stager told Bales of a gun with a laser light on it.
In her account to authorities, Serrano wavered on whether Mitchell or Stager had the gun during the incident, Bales said.
Serrano said Chavez tackled Mitchell, and then Stager and Gallegos got out of the car, and that's when the gun went off. Serrano said neither Gallegos nor Stager intervened physically, according to authorities.
Stager said Mitchell pointed the gun at Chavez's head and Chavez moved Mitchell's arm and struggled with him before the gunshot.
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 on Chavez around the time he was shot.
The four suspects 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.
Mitchell has not made any statements in the case, Bales said.
Along with Mitchell's apparent mention of his involvement in the case in Snapchat messages, he also posted on Facebook about the shooting the day afterward, Bales said. The Snapchat messages named the three other suspects and said the user, apparently Mitchell, was with them at the time.
A defense attorney for Mitchell said authorities don't have his phone — messages were provided by the Snapchat company after court orders — and argued that because it isn't known who has access to the account, it could be anyone sending the messages. The judge allowed the messages to be admitted as evidence.
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