Teen suspect will see trial in vape-related shooting of Cherokee Trail rugby player

Kenneth Gallegos, 17, allegedly involved in Lloyd Chavez death

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At a court hearing for a suspect in the May death of a Cherokee Trail High School student, two starkly different views on the case emerged. The prosecution argued that hard evidence placed the teen at the scene of the shooting, and the defense said the case stands on nothing more than the shifting story of one witness, herself a suspect.

“The prosecution cannot solely rely on hearsay evidence,” said defense attorney Morgen Oswood, adding that her statements “are inconsistent at best.”

The court proceeding July 17 for Kenneth Alfonso Gallegos decided that the 17-year-old will face trial for his suspected involvement in the shooting of Lloyd Alvin Chavez, 18, during what was planned as a robbery of vaping products Chavez sold, according to testimony in Arapahoe County District Court.

That testimony consisted only of the account by Niki Bales, an Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office investigator who filed the affidavit for Gallegos' arrest.

The teenager's defense attorneys argued that Bales' reason for suspecting Gallegos was based on statements by Juliana Alexis Serrano, 17, another of the four teens suspected of driving to Chavez's home in east Centennial the night of May 8 in an incident that ended with Chavez's death.

The other two suspects are Dominic Jarrod Stager — who is 17 or 18 based on sheriff's and court records — and 17-year-old Demarea Deshawn Mitchell. Serrano and Stager are students at Cherokee Trail, and Gallegos is a Grandview High School student who recently transferred from Cherokee Trail. Mitchell was identified in photos provided by a Cherokee Trail school resource officer.

The July 17 event was a preliminary hearing, where a court decides whether there is enough evidence to take the case to trial — it doesn't decide whether a suspect is guilty.

Judge Ben Leutwyler ruled the evidence was sufficient for Gallegos' three charges — first-degree felony murder, aggravated robbery and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery — to continue to trial.

Leutwyler ordered Gallegos to be held without bond, and a hearing on Oct. 24 will decide a request for him to be transferred to juvenile court. The other three suspects were charged with the same crimes as Gallegos, according to the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office.

All four are currently being prosecuted as adults rather than juveniles, according to the DA's office. The other three also have hearings in the fall for requests to transfer to juvenile court and are awaiting their preliminary hearings in the coming months.

Shooting over 'juice'

Data from Serrano's phone places her at the scene between 9:18 and 9:27 p.m., Christopher Gallo, chief deputy 18th Judicial District attorney, told the court, and the shooting occurred about 9:25 p.m., according to the investigation. Serrano initially refused to let an investigator look through her phone, but a warrant was later acquired, according to testimony.

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 “juice” in a plan that began a day or two before he was shot, Serrano told an investigator.

The four suspects pulled up to 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 four 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.

Gallegos believed himself to be addicted to JUUL pods, a type of vape product, according to his parents.

'All over the place'

Before Chavez died during surgery at the hospital, he told a nurse and a sheriff's deputy that “Kenny” shot him and that the shooter was a junior at Cherokee Trail, according to authorities. Serrano said it was Mitchell who shot Chavez.

The defense highlighted that a deputy said Chavez had told medical staff someone had broken into his house and that a classmate was the culprit, and that information was not told to the deputy when he spoke to Chavez, according to the investigation.

Attorneys also noted that Cherokee Trail has three students named Kenneth who aren't Gallegos.

But the main defense argument was about the credibility of Serrano, who spoke to authorities multiple times.

She was “all over the place,” said Angela Brant, another defense attorney. Serrano said it was the other suspects' plan to rob Chavez, then later said “technically yeah,” it was her plan, but that it was “not really” her plan from the beginning to not give Chavez the money, according to the affidavit. She added that it was another female friend of Gallegos who asked him to rob Chavez.

Investigators couldn't get cell tower information on where Gallegos' phone was during the shooting, the defense noted, but Serrano said someone gave Gallegos a “trap phone” — meant to be untraceable — according to the affidavit.

Serrano said Gallegos wasn't the shooter from the beginning, despite the changes in her story, and there's no evidence he took anything of value, the defense pointed out.

The investigation hasn't recovered a gun, and the prosecution did not present the deputy who spoke with Chavez, or the nurse who talked to Chavez, for testimony, the defense said.

But the prosecution argued that Serrano's mother's recollection placed her in the car that was spotted at the scene, and that the content of a letter Gallegos wrote to Serrano at the juvenile detention center where they’ve been held establishes his involvement.

The coroner's autopsy determined Chavez died from a gunshot wound and that the bullet entered from front to back and downward, according to Bales' testimony.

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 on Chavez around the time he was shot, according to the affidavit.

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