BERNALILLO, N.M. (KRQE) - District Attorney Lemuel Martinez says you can't put a price on justice, but that doesn't mean pursuing it is free.
Martinez released expenses from the month-and-a-half-long Levi Chavez trial, a tab that ran up to about $45,000, including prosecutor salaries. Despite the spending, Chavez was unanimously acquitted of murder by a jury earlier this month.
"We did the best we could at a minimal price to get [the public] the best value for their money," Martinez said.
Nearly a third of the cost came from paying expert witnesses. Handwriting expert Thomas Van Valkenburgh cost taxpayers $3,730. He ended up hurting the state's case by testifying that a pair of possible suicide notes written by Levi's wife Tera were not forged.
"We have to bring out things that may hurt us if somebody else does bring them out," Martinez said.
Another big cost was the choice to put up both prosecutors at a Holiday Inn Express in Bernalillo during the course of the trial. That and a per diem ran taxpayers $7,542. Martinez says the hotel allowed prosecutors Bryan McKay and Anne Keener to immediately work on the case after the trial wrapped up for the day and avoid a tiring commute.
Even so, the DA's costs were far less than the city of Albuquerque's. The city paid out a $240,000 settlement to Tera Chavez's parents as part of a civil lawsuit in the case. That and legal costs led to a total bill of $818,107, a price tag that doesn't include more than $150,000 paid out to Levi Chavez while he was on desk duty and paid suspension.
The DA's expenses are also far less than the cost for Levi's defense. Chavez's attorney David Serna wouldn't confirm the exact amount it cost for Chavez's defense, but did say it was in the "low six figures."
CORRECITON: In the broadcast version of the story the DA's costs for the trial were estimated at $36,000. The actual number is approximately $45,000. The discrepancy comes from an omission of one of the prosecutor's salaries. We regret the error and have updated the story to reflect the correct information.
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