Staff and wire reports
ALBUQUERQUE — A 27-year-old Albuquerque man has pleaded innocent to shooting a well-respected real estate agent in the back of the head and leaving his body in a closet inside a home he was trying to sell.
Mario Lucas Chavez entered his plea Friday, the same day family members buried 74-year-old Garland Taylor, a self-employed real estate agent and church deacon.
Chavez is a 1999 Eastern New Mexico University graduate.
Taylor was found dead Monday evening in an unoccupied home he was listing in an upscale part of Albuquerque. Neighbors had noticed his car in the driveway all day and called his wife and authorities.
After getting numerous tips, investigators with the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department arrested Chavez on Thursday evening at the home of a relative.
“I’m exceedingly confident that we have the man who killed the deceased,” said Lt. Gregg Marcantel, one of two dozen investigators assigned to the case. “Mr. Taylor’s killer is behind bars.”
Chavez is being held on a $2 million cash bond.
The Albuquerque Tribune reported Chavez attended ENMU from 1996 to 1999, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Gerry Huybregts, ENMU’s dean of business, said he remembers Chavez as a dedicated student.
“This was before he graduated,” Huybregts said on Saturday. “His mother took sick and he had to go back to Albuquerque to look after her. … For a while he was commuting between Albuquerque and Portales and taking classes. That’s why I’m a little suprised about this, because he worked really hard to graduate.”
On Friday, sheriff’s deputies found a .22-caliber handgun believed to be the murder weapon off Interstate 25 near Sandia Casino, but they are still trying to find a motive for Taylor’s slaying.
Authorities got a break in the case when they found Chavez’s car at the home of his mother, Nancy Chavez, who works as an Albuquerque police secretary.
The woman has not been charged with any crime, but she has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the sheriff’s investigation, said police spokesman Detective Jeff Arbogast.
Authorities also tracked Chavez through an Arizona-based cell phone number he gave to another real estate agent weeks ago while inquiring about another vacant home.
Investigators say Chavez portrayed himself to Taylor and other real estate agents as a corporate attorney from Arizona. During the last five years, Chavez divided his time between Albuquerque, Tuscon and Phoenix.
He told court administrators he was part owner in three Arizona-based companies, including a corporate computer consulting firm, Brazen Technology, in Phoenix.
Investigators have tied Chavez to numerous property-related and fraud crimes in Arizona.
Several search warrants were executed Friday in connection with the case. Marcantel said investigators are trying to capture any evidence of communication from anyone who might have helped Mario Chavez in any way.