Special prosecutor leaves Chan case; next step up to Las Cruces DA
A special prosecutor this week withdrew from the case against a former Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputy accused of fatally shooting a colleague in a Las Cruces hotel during a work trip in 2014.
In a court filing Wednesday, special prosecutor Troy Davis referred to a judge’s May dismissal of first- and second-degree murder charges against Tai Chan, who twice has faced juries that were unable to reach a verdict.
It is now up to the district attorney in Las Cruces to decide whether the state should pursue charges of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter against Chan, who has claimed he acted in self-defense when he shot fellow Deputy Jeremy Martin after a night of heavy drinking and arguing while returning to Santa Fe after delivering a prisoner to Arizona.
Chan was charged with first-degree murder, but after jurors were unable to reach a verdict on that charge, they were allowed to consider the lesser charge of second-degree murder, defense attorney John Day said.
However, after jurors in the second trial reached an impasse, a judge dismissed the most serious charges. The dismissal was based in part on a state Supreme Court ruling in another case that said when a jury becomes deadlocked, the trial judge must confirm that there was not unanimous agreement that the defendant was not guilty of one or more lesser included offenses.
The high court ruling required the judge to poll jurors on how they voted, but that didn’t happen.
Chan’s defense attorneys successfully argued that putting Chan on trial again for murder would constitute double jeopardy.
Davis, who was appointed as special prosecutor after the Las Cruces district attorney declared a conflict, said in his court filing this week: “This case possibly needs to be reindicted for voluntary manslaughter with a firearm enhancement.”
Davis said in an email Thursday that it will be up to the 3rd Judicial District Attorney to determine what happens next. Davis added that he was sure the district attorney would consult with Martin’s widow, Sarah.
District Attorney Mark D’Antonio of Las Cruces could not be reached for comment Thursday.
After mistrials in 2016 and 2017, Chan had been set to stand trial again this month.
“The whole case is gone now,” defense attorney Day said Thursday. “The only thing he could be tried on is voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, but because the prosecutor did not indict on those charges, there is no pending case.”
Day has argued that after Martin attacked Chan in their hotel room, Chan acted out of fear for his life when he shot Martin several times as Martin fled the room.
“We have said all along that people have a right to defend themselves in New Mexico,” Day said.
“It was presented to two different juries and both juries split evenly on self-defense, so that shows you have a right to defend yourself from a violent attack in New Mexico,” Day said.
Asked if he would agree to a plea deal on a manslaughter charge, Day responded, “It’s all hypothetical because there is no case now. We don’t have any role in this.”