Lawyers continue to question competency of homicide suspect

Lawyers continue to question competency of homicide suspect

From the Las Vegas Optic

William “Skip” Smith Jr.

He was more than an average resident. Skip was a part of Las Vegas — an intrinsic fixture seemingly plucked from the pages of a novel about a quaint small town in northern New Mexico. Visitors and locals alike could see him all over town, and he’d usually offer a smile or a friendly word.

But one year ago this month, the Meadow City lost 71-year-old William “Skip” Smith Jr. when his body was found in an alleyway Aug. 16, 2019, by a passerby. Most in town had heard of his death within hours, and by the end of the day, it seemed everyone knew he was gone.

An autopsy conducted by the Office of the Medical Investigator revealed Smith had been stabbed and cut two dozen times, and OMI ruled his death a homicide. Following months of investigation by the Las Vegas Police Department, at the end of February 2020, police publicly named a suspect in the homicide: Isaac Seig Chavez, who is often referred to as Seig Isaac Chavez in court records.

Seig Issac Chavez

Chavez, now 41, was arrested in Albuquerque on Feb. 27 and transported back to Las Vegas to face charges of first-degree murder and tampering with evidence. In May, Chavez was found incompetent to stand trial and was remanded to the care of the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute.

Now, a year after Smith’s death, mental health professionals feel Chavez is ready to stand trial for murder, but his attorney disagrees. In a motion filed Thursday, Chavez’s defense attorneys asked the court to delay a competency hearing for 90 days.

 

Aug. 16 

Just before 8 that Friday morning, someone called 911 to report a body in an alleyway north of Washington Street, in between Fifth Street and Sixth Street. Officers and investigators with the Las Vegas Police Department responded to the alleyway to find Smith face down in blood, lying in a shaded area by a small tree. Trails of blood stretched from Smith’s body to the street, and in total, investigators collected swabs of blood from 27 different areas, according to criminal investigation records obtained by the Optic through a public records request.

Police also located a knife on the northern edge of the alleyway, near a shed, and noted a fresh set of tire tracks near the shed as well. An investigator from the Office of the Medical Investigator located multiple stab wounds, and a later autopsy would reveal Smith was stabbed or cut 24 times, including wounds to his head, neck, chest, stomach, arms and legs.

 

The search for a killer

LVPD investigators tracked down witnesses who said they’d last seen Smith around 6 p.m. the night before his body was found. Some reported seeing him at the Dairy Queen on Columbia Street and Grand Avenue, so detectives gathered security camera video from at least a half dozen businesses along Grand Avenue and began piecing together Smith’s movements that evening.

Video footage from the area of Grand Avenue and Mills Avenue showed Smith visiting several businesses between 6 and 7 p.m. Around 6:40 p.m., video from a Chinese restaurant showed a small, two-door Chevrolet truck pull into the parking lot. The driver of the truck spoke to Smith briefly, and then Smith got into the truck. It drove away going south on Grand.

More video footage from a nearby motel showed the same truck — a small Chevrolet with no mirrors, “something underneath the front end” and a silver “diamond-plated” toolbox in the bed. Video from the motel captured the driver as well, a man police described as a “tall, light-colored male, with a receding hairline and tattoos on his left arm from the shoulder to his lower arm,” according to LVPD investigation records.

Days later, on Aug, 26, police located a truck matching the description of the one in the video footage parked on West National Street. The truck was missing its mirrors, had a piece of plastic hanging from the front end and had a toolbox in the bed. But according to police, the truck “appeared to be sanded,” and the toolbox “appeared to be recently painted black.” A search of the plates showed it was registered to Chavez, who matched the description of the man in the videos.

 

Search warrants

A judge granted police search warrants for the truck, the home it was parked in front of and a home in Tecolotito that Chavez was known to reside at.

Police again located the truck, and Chavez, and during a search of Chavez, officers located five knives. LVPD and New Mexico State Police searched the truck and located another knife and noted that portions of the passenger seat had been cut, with chunks of the upholstery removed.

During a search of the home on West National Street, investigators located 16 knives, as well as 11 kitchen knives.

LVPD and NMSP searched the home in Tecolotito where investigators located sandpaper, 11 cans of black spray paint, three knives, a shotgun and 113 rounds of ammunition, along with a jacket and a shoe with blood stains.

In December, investigators received a laboratory report from the New Mexico Department of Public Safety Forensic Laboratory which indicated blood had been found on 13 items collected, and DNA from several of the items matched Smith’s DNA. More laboratory results came back in February, showing blood on four other items collected, including pieces of the upholstery from Chavez’s truck.

Police filed for an arrest warrant on Feb. 18, but by then, Chavez had left town.

With help from the U.S. Marshals Service, investigators began tracking purchases made with Chavez’s Electronic Benefit Transfer card, which led them to Chavez in Albuquerque’s North Valley.

 

Next steps

Chavez was arrested in Albuquerque by the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office on Feb. 27, but before a trial date was set, in May, Chavez was found incompetent to stand trial.

Earlier this month, on Aug. 4, officials at NMBHI issued a report that stated Chavez is now ready to stand trial for murder. However, in a motion filed this past Thursday, Chavez’s defense attorney asked the court to delay a competency hearing for 90 days, citing concerns over discrepancies in IQ tests given to Chavez.

Following a 2017 evaluation, Chavez’s IQ was 49, according to the motion, but during an Aug. 4, 2020, evaluation, Chavez’s IQ was found to be 84. His lawyers argued that such a large discrepancy requires further evaluation and investigation.

The motion also points to a “documented history of traumatic brain injuries.” During the execution of the search warrant at the home on West National Street, Chavez’s mother told police he’d been in multiple vehicle crashes and had sustained injuries to his head, according to LVPD incident reports.

When police interviewed Chavez last August, he told officers he’d had a “blackout” on at least two recent occasions, and said that someone had taken his truck without his permission.

He further stated that he often helps others who are experiencing homelessness “with rides, food and cigarettes,” according to incident reports.

 

Remembering Skip

Smith was laid to rest at Our Lady of Sorrows Church on Aug. 22, 2019. Earlier this year, the city’s Design Review Board approved plans for a memorial bench and plaque to be placed in Plaza Park. The memorial will be funded by members of the community who loved Smith, and still miss seeing him around town.