One 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 could see trial as early as December.
But attorneys were still battling over what evidence can be presented at trial and how the case will proceed. A July 7 hearing centered largely on whether the suspect, 18-year-old Kenneth Alfonso Gallegos, knew he and his mother were being listened to in a police interview room after the May 2019 fatal shooting of 18-year-old Lloyd Alvin Chavez in east Centennial.
Gallegos has pleaded not guilty to charges including first-degree felony murder.
Gallegos and his co-defendants were accused of involvement in the shooting that occurred during what was planned as a robbery of vaping products Chavez sold, according to arrest affidavits.
After the incident, Gallegos' mother, Stephania Gallegos, and her husband were taken to an interview room once they got to a law enforcement building, according to the mother's testimony at the July 7 hearing in Arapahoe County District Court.
Gallegos' parents told an investigator that Gallegos did not want to talk with police, the investigator told the court.
The parents were asked if they wanted to talk to their son, and his mother was put in a room with Gallegos, she told the court. She was under the impression she could have a private conversation with Gallegos in that room without anyone hearing, she said.
There, Gallegos told his mom he didn't know anything about a shooting, according to Michael Root, his defense attorney. Root asked the court to “suppress” that statement so the prosecution can't use it at trial, arguing that it was obtained improperly because Gallegos' mother had an expectation that the conversation with her son was private.
But nobody told Gallegos or his parents that they weren't being observed, Christopher Gallo, a prosecutor for the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office, argued at the hearing.
“He never said it was going to be recorded; he didn't say it was confidential,” Stephania Gallegos said of the investigator. “He didn't say either way.”
The investigator told the judge that he has “been told” that there is a sign on the door indicating that the room is being recorded but doesn't recall seeing it himself and doesn't know whether Gallegos and his mother knew about the cameras.
“When you put someone alone in a room, shut the door and they've already indicated they don't want to talk to the police” it's “objectively reasonable” for them to assume they would not be recorded, Root argued.
Gallo countered: “Here, the police never affirmatively lie to this defendant” and did not create a reasonable expectation of privacy. A person does not have a right to privacy in a room in a police facility based on relevant court cases, Gallo argued.
Judge Ben Leutwyler was to issue a written order on whether the Arapahoe County District Court would suppress Gallegos' statements to his mother, choosing not to decide the matter on July 7.
Leutwyler scheduled a seven-day trial to start Dec. 1.
Gallegos' statement about not knowing anything about a shooting, if allowed at trial, could call his credibility into question in a case where cellphone technology places more than one of the suspects at the scene.
Gallegos has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree felony murder, aggravated robbery and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery. 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.
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.
The other three suspects had been charged with the same crimes as Gallegos, according to the DA's office.
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.
The fourth suspect, 18-year-old Demarea Deshawn Mitchell, still awaited an oral ruling July 14 that was to determine if his case will be moved to juvenile court.
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 has pointed out in a prior court proceeding that data from Serrano's phone places 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 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.
Gallegos believed himself to be addicted to JUUL pods, a type of vape product, according to his parents.
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