A Las Cruces judge on Thursday dismissed first- and second-degree murder charges against Tai Chan, a former Santa Fe County sheriff's deputy accused of killing his partner.
"It's a huge deal," Chan's attorney John Day told ABC-7 by phone.
Because of District Judge Conrad Perea's decision, Chan only faces up to seven years in prison if convicted of voluntary manslaughter. Previously, he faced lifetime in prison for murder charges.
Chan admitted to shooting his fellow deputy, Jeremy Martin, in 2014, but he claimed it was self-defense.
"We had said all along this was overcharged, those weren't appropriate charges, and I think the jury in the previous two cases agreed with us," Day said.
There were two previous mistrials in the case because the jury could not reach a verdict.
"Both times, we've discussed with the jury why this is a self-defense situation," Day said. "Both times, the jury split."
The previous judge in the case, Fernando Macias, failed to poll each juror for their verdict (second degree murder or voluntary manslaughter), Chan's attorney said. According to a new ruling from the New Mexico Supreme Court, if judges don't poll for each charge, the new trial will only be for the lesser offense. In this case, it was voluntary manslaughter.
The Third Judicial District Attorney's Office will no longer try the case; special prosecutors Troy Davis and Devin Chapman will prosecute the third trial in late August, the office said. Davis and Chapman did not return ABC-7's calls for comment.