A jury of eight women and four men deliberated for about 90 minutes Friday night before returning guilty verdicts against Gary Chavez. He’s the Knox man accused of murdering his estranged wife, Kimberly Chavez of Portage, at his rural California Township home last June 6th, kidnapping an employee from Mark Bailey’s Discount Center and carjacking a couple in English Lake.
Defense attorney David Welter argued unsuccessfully for convictions on lesser charges of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter and auto theft. Chavez was found guilty of murder, kidnapping and carjacking. Starke County Prosecuting Attorney Nicholas Bourff says the verdict is bittersweet.
“I do feel like justice was reached today, but at the end of the day nothing’s going to make the family whole again. A jury trial can’t fix what’s been broken, so it’s bittersweet,” Bourff said afterward.
Cell phone records introduced into evidence during the trial indicate Gary and Kim exchanged several text messages the morning she died. At one point he sent her a text saying he wasn’t feeling well and another one that said he thought he was dying. Afterward he did not respond to any messages she sent and did not answer his phone when she called. That’s when she left work and drove to Knox to check on him.
Chavez was the lone witness for the defense. He stated he did not remember any of the text messages and said he was happy to see her when she arrived at his home. A few hours later detectives from the Starke County Sheriff’s Office found her badly beaten body facedown next to his house wrapped in a grill cover. Her locked BMW was in the driveway, and her purse and cell phone were still inside the car. Chavez said Kim confessed to cheating on him, at which point he dropped to his knee in the living room and things went blank.
His next memory is of standing over Kim with a piece of wood in his hand wondering what he had done. That’s when Chavez said he panicked and grabbed his pistol, intent on taking his own life, and fled. He testified his plan was to drive to Portage and commit suicide at Lake Michigan. On the way he decided to change vehicles since the police would probably be looking for his. That’s why he said he pulled into the parking lot at Mark Bailey’s Discount Center, pulled a gun on employee Bryant Wagner, ordered him into the passenger seat of his car and took off. Earlier in the week Wagner testified Chavez told him he had just killed his wife and was en route to Valparaiso to kill his stepson. Wagner’s car was running out of gas, so Chavez carjacked a Jeep Grand Cherokee from a couple in English Lake. They also testified earlier in the week and were in the courtroom last night when the verdicts were read. So were members of both Gary and Kim’s families.
“I think I speak for everyone involved, from the law enforcement to the victims to the families, that we’re all glad this is over,” Bourff said.
Starke Circuit Judge Kim Hall set Gary Chavez’s sentencing hearing for Thursday, Aug. 27th. Until then he is to remain in the Starke County Jail.