Teen convicted in murder of Cherokee Trail High School student

Kenneth Gallegos, accused of being central player in plot, faces decades in prison

Ellis Arnold
earnold@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 4/12/21

An Arapahoe County jury on April 9 found Kenneth Gallegos, 19, guilty of first-degree felony murder, aggravated robbery and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery. Gallegos was found guilty of …

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Teen convicted in murder of Cherokee Trail High School student

Kenneth Gallegos, accused of being central player in plot, faces decades in prison

Posted

An Arapahoe County jury on April 9 found Kenneth Gallegos, 19, guilty of first-degree felony murder, aggravated robbery and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery. Gallegos was found guilty of actions that led to the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Lloyd Alvin Chavez during a robbery of vaping products that Chavez sold, although another teen yet to be tried may have shot Chavez.

The prosecution in the case argued that Gallegos acted as the central player in a plot to organize a confrontation outside of Chavez's home in east Centennial the night of May 8, 2019.

Gallegos was 17 at the time of the crime. Under Colorado law, the mandatory penalty for a juvenile convicted of a first-class felony is life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years, according to a news release from the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office. Gallegos is expected to be sentenced on June 2.

During a trial nearly two years after the shooting, defense attorneys argued that investigators wrongly focused on Gallegos, sending the investigation in the wrong direction.

“Once that train went down the wrong track, the police wouldn't go off that track,” defense attorney Michael Root said during the trial in Arapahoe County District Court. “They pushed down that track until we find ourselves here today, with the person that brought the gun and the person who planned this (not held accountable).”

Gallegos stood accused of driving to Chavez's home with three other teens: Dominic Jarrod Stager, now 19; Juliana Alexis Serrano, now also 19; and Demarea Deshawn Mitchell, now 18.

Stager and Serrano were both offered plea deals to testify against Gallegos, and in return, they were treated as juveniles in court rather than adults. Had they been prosecuted as adults like Gallegos, they would have faced 40 years to life in prison — instead, they received two-year sentences in juvenile settings, according to trial testimony.

Stager brought the gun, which he said he had stolen, and Mitchell is believed to have shot Chavez, according to the court proceedings. The defense argued that Serrano “had planned the whole event,” a point that has long been in dispute.

But Christopher Gallo, a prosecutor for the trial, told the jury that Gallegos' involvement was serious enough to constitute committing murder under a special type of murder charge. He scoffed at the idea that Gallegos “had no idea what was going on” and that he was “just a guy driving a car.”

“That has to be true for him to be innocent, right?” said Gallo, a chief deputy district attorney. “Because if he knows about the robbery, and he drives the robbers to the robbery, he's guilty of felony murder.”

A count of first-degree felony murder can be charged against anyone in a group that is allegedly involved in a serious crime in which a death occurs. The charge applies even if a particular member of the group is not believed to have directly caused the death.

Notably, the prosecution's arguments didn't rely on the idea that Gallegos was the shooter — a detail that had been mired in some uncertainty earlier in the case. Gallegos chose not to testify during the trial.

Gallegos served as the main actor in planning the incident, prosecutors argued at the trial. He knew of someone he could rob and knew he was going to “enlist” Serrano, and while Serrano was messaging Chavez over Snapchat to arrange the meetup, she was simultaneously messaging Gallegos, according to the trial proceedings.

Gallegos “needed a gun,” so he made plans to meet with Stager, whom he knew had a gun, said Gwenn Sandrock, a deputy district attorney.

Gallegos “is the literal and figurative driver of the plan,” Sandrock said.

Judge Ben Leutwyler said during an earlier hearing that “there is conflicting evidence as to who shot Mr. Chavez.”

Before Chavez died during surgery at a 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.

At the trial, the court played video of Chavez making that statement, but before the video began, Leutwyler told the jury that the video was "not being admitted for the truth of the statements but for the conduct of law enforcement based on those statements."

Serrano and Stager were students at Cherokee Trail, and Gallegos was a Grandview High School student who had recently transferred from Cherokee Trail. Mitchell was identified in photos provided by a Cherokee Trail school resource officer.

The remaining defendant, Mitchell, pleaded not guilty on Aug. 31 to first-degree felony murder, aggravated robbery, attempted aggravated robbery and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery, according to the DA's office. His trial is to begin July 8.

Leutwyler had denied a request to transfer Mitchell's case to juvenile court. The court also denied a motion to have Gallegos' case transferred to juvenile court, where the other two defendants received the chance for more-lenient sentences.

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