Sentencing delayed after man pleads guilty in Planet Fitness shooting
LAS CRUCES – A judge delayed sentencing a Las Cruces man after he pleaded guilty to shooting a woman inside a local gym in 2021.
The judge delayed a sentencing hearing Monday, saying he needed a report from the New Mexico Department of Corrections before the hearing could continue. The judge said that as soon as he had the report, he would move to sentence 29-year-old Jose Daniel Chavez.
Court records show Chavez pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder in the first degree and one count of tampering with evidence. Chavez has been jailed since police said he shot a woman working the front desk at Planet Fitness on El Paseo Road on Aug. 3, 2021.
According to court filings, Chavez was scheduled for a trial at the end of 2023. He instead pleaded guilty to the charges on Dec. 23, 2022.
What happened on the day of the shooting?
Chavez had been a member at Planet Fitness since January 2020, according to an affidavit filed after the shooting. But gym staff described Chavez’s year-and-a-half of membership as fraught.
Managers at the gym told police that Planet Fitness revoked Chavez’s membership in June 2021 after repeated complaints about the clothes he wore to the gym. Managers also told police that Chavez threatened employees as a member.
Two months later, police said Chavez entered the El Paseo location at about 8 a.m. on Aug. 3, pistol in hand. As he entered, he threw his shoe at a woman working the front desk and fired his gun into her chest, according to police.
Gym security cameras recorded the shooting, according to the affidavit.
Investigators did not speculate on Chavez’s motivations in the affidavit. However, prosecutors said in court filings they believed the attack was unprovoked. The woman later told police she’d never met Chavez before he shot her.
Police arrested Chavez a few minutes after the shooting. They said they found him wandering a few blocks away near the Main Street, El Paseo Road intersection. When Chavez was brought back to the police station for an interview, detectives said he wouldn’t acknowledge them and stared at a blank wall.
Questions of competency
Chavez’s behavior inspired his attorney, Jonathon Miller, to request a competency evaluation. Three months after the shooting, Judge Richard Jacquez received an assessment that found Chavez competent to stand trial.
New Mexico state statute says that competency in a legal context means “a defendant understands the nature and significance of the proceedings, has a factual understanding of the charges and is able to assist defense counsel in defendant’s defense.”
Competency issues differ from insanity arguments, which concern a defendant’s mental state during the alleged incident.
A random shooting’s lasting impact
After determining Chavez competent to stand trial, prosecutors renewed their quest to hold him in jail.
During a pretrial detention hearing in November 2021, the Planet Fitness worker testified she’d fear for her life if Chavez was released.
“I’m a whole new person, and it’s not a good new person,” she said.
The woman testified she’d worked for Planet Fitness for nine months before Chavez shot her.
When Chavez came into the facility, she said she didn’t recognize him and had no previous encounters with him.
She told the court that she believed Chavez was most likely a member of Planet Fitness on Telshor Boulevard.
In the shooting’s aftermath, the woman said she was hospitalized for a day. But the mental effects remain, she said.
How long might Chavez be in prison?
The maximum sentence a judge might impose is nine years for the attempted murder charge and three years for the tampering charge. That’s 12 years if the judge orders the sentences to run consecutively.
But since Chavez agreed to plead guilty instead of going to trial, his sentence could be less than 12 years. It wasn’t clear from the plea and disposition agreement if Chavez’s attorney and prosecutors had agreed to a sentence or if they would argue for different outcomes at an upcoming hearing.
Regardless, Chavez’s final sentence will be reduced by about 18 months because he will receive credit for time he served in jail.
A new sentencing hearing has yet to be scheduled as of this article’s publication but will likely occur in the coming weeks.
Justin Garcia covers crime, courts and public safety. He can be reached via email at [email protected].