SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s been seven years since Matthew Chavez shot and killed Army Veteran Tyler Lackey in a robbery in 2016 in Albuquerque. On Tuesday, the attorney general announced his conviction was overturned.
In response, New Mexico Attorney General Raul Torrez and Senator Moe Maestas (D-Albuquerque) introduced the ‘Tyler Lackey Memorial Bill’ which aims to close a loophole in New Mexico’s law that helped Chavez overturn his murder charge.
Chavez was convicted of second-degree murder in 2018. Chavez’s lawyers appealed on the grounds that the jury at the time wasn’t given the option of a voluntary manslaughter charge, which includes an argument of ‘imperfect’ self-defense. The jury ended up sentencing him to 23 and a half years behind bars.
Chavez’s lawyers argued he was acting in self-defense by shooting Lackey because Lackey had a gun as well. The Court of Appeals agreed that jurors should have had the option of deciding whether it was voluntary manslaughter or second-degree murder, and overturned the conviction.
However, on Tuesday, both Torrez and Maestas – joined by Tyler Lackey’s mother Liz Frank – announced Senate Bill 363 and said it would stop lawyers from making that argument in future cases. “We are here today because the only avenue we have for making sure that this miscarriage of justice doesn’t occur again is to introduce the proposed bill which would preclude a violent aggressor, an armed robber, to have the benefit of what is known as imperfect self-defense and thereby get a lesser included instruction,” Torrez says.
Senate Bill 363 says the voluntary manslaughter charge can’t be applied if the defendant was in the act of committing a felony. “To apply an imperfect self-defense to lessen the charge of murder to manslaughter is to blame the victim for getting attacked and reasonably taking defensive action,” Frank said.
She spoke extensively about her son’s military service and his dedication to his family. “The Court of Appeals’ decision is what it is. What’s unfortunate is if we get this bill passed, it will solve a problem in New Mexico’s law but it will not solve this problem for Tyler,” Maestas said.
If it passes, the law will not apply retroactively to Lackey’s case. The attorney general’s office is going to try Chavez for second-degree murder, this time giving the jury the option to convict him of voluntary manslaughter. Matthew Chavez remains in state custody.
A second-degree murder charge carries a maximum of 15 years behind bars. Voluntary manslaughter carries a sentence of six years.
This bill heads to the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee.