An Arapahoe County jury on Friday convicted a 19-year-old of murder in the 2019 shooting death of a Cherokee Trail High School student and star rugby player during a deal for vaping products outside the victim’s home.
The jury deliberated for about five hours before convicting Kenneth Gallegos of first-degree felony murder in the death of Lloyd Chavez IV, 18. The jurors also found Gallegos guilty of attempted aggravated robbery, conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery and attempt to commit theft, but acquitted him on a theft charge.
“Lloyd Chavez was killed over vape juice pods, and his life is over because of this defendant,” 18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner said in a statement. “I am pleased that the jury came to this verdict in this case. It is hard to think of justice when a young man’s life was taken so violently, but I’m hopeful the victim’s family finds some measure of solace in this verdict.”
Gallegos will receive an automatic sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years for the felony murder conviction, since he was 17 at the time of the killing. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 2.
Prosecutors allege Gallegos, Juliana Serrano, Dominic Stager and Demarea Mitchell went to purchase vape juice and other vaping products from Chavez at his home in the 21500 block of East Powers Lane in Centennial on May 8, 2019 — a deal that resulted in the death of Chavez.
Before he died at Parker Adventist Hospital, Chavez told a nurse and sheriff’s deputy that Gallegos had shot him, police said. But Serrano told investigators that Gallegos wasn’t the shooter and was “being blamed for things somebody else did,” Mike Root, Gallegos’ defense attorney, told the jury Friday.
Serrano previously told police that Mitchell fired the gun in self-defense, according to testimony at a prior hearing.
“This is a great tragedy that Lloyd Chavez died,” Root said. “There are no words to make it less. But it started when he said that Kenny Gallegos had shot him. Now we know that wasn’t true. Things that are said don’t necessarily mean that they are true.”
Deputy District Attorney Gwenn Sandrock told the jury Gallegos was the “literal and figurative driver” of the plan, and knew about the gun and the robbery.
“He devised, he recruited, he assembled the tools… and he ensured that the plan was executed,” Sandrock told the jury.
Sandrock said that even if Gallegos only knew that a robbery was going to happen, and drove the people to the robbery, it was enough to convict him of felony murder under Colorado statute, which allows people to be found guilty of murder during the commission of a felony even if they didn’t directly kill the victim.
Root told the jury that there wasn’t enough evidence to support the claim Gallegos had any prior knowledge of what was going to happen. He said there was no evidence of planning via texts and phone calls, and if there had been, the jury would have been presented with it.
“You would’ve seen it, but you didn’t and that’s because it’s not there,” Root said. “You can’t fill the hole.”
Root said the only evidence for Gallegos having knowledge of a gun was through Stager’s testimony, but that Stager “acted like a man who was not telling the truth and that’s because he wasn’t telling the truth.”
The prosecution said Gallegos, Stager and Mitchell had hung out hours before the incident with Chavez. Chief Deputy District Attorney Christopher Gallo said it was very unlikely Gallegos didn’t know Stager had a gun in the time before the robbery.
“You’re telling me that this defendant has no idea that his buddy is packing heat for the hours that they’re in a car together?” Gallo said.
Prosecutors dismissed charges against Serrano and Stager, but Mitchell is scheduled to stand trial July 13 on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated robbery and two violent-crime sentence enhacers.
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