TWIN FALLS — Vason Lee Widaman, the 15-year-old Canyon Ridge freshman killed in a drive-by shooting, was murdered by two Buhl men over an $800 drug debt, police said.
The suspected killers, arrested Tuesday, were formally charged with the murder Wednesday, and new court documents in their cases show detectives were on their trail almost immediately after Widaman was gunned down May 7 in a brazen daylight shooting.
Over the months that followed, police used cellphone records, forensic evidence, witness testimony and a confidential informant to build their case.
Jose Daniel Alvarez, 20, and Gerardo Raul Chavez, 19, were arraigned in Twin Falls County Magistrate Court on felony counts of first-degree murder and intimidating a witness.
Chavez, who was in and out of police custody on probation violations since the killing, also threatened to kill Twin Falls Police Detective Ken Rivers, according to a sworn affidavit written by the veteran detective. Rivers was the lead investigator in the case.
According to several people who spoke to police in the days after the murder, Chavez was upset with Widaman because the Canyon Ridge freshman had failed to deliver Xanax pills he had promised Chavez in exchange for between $700 and $800.
A friend of Widaman’s who was unnamed in the affidavit told Rivers that “Widaman had been involved in a number of drug deals and he had begun ripping people off.”
Austin Dobbs, the son of Twin Falls School District Superintendent Wiley Dobbs, was Chavez’s roommate. The younger Dobbs told police that he and Chavez in April had pooled around $700 or $800 to buy Xanax, and they went to Canyon Ridge High School to pay the person who would get the drugs for them. But when the pills were never delivered, Chavez promised to “deal with” the person responsible.
“Dobbs said that several days before the homicide he was speaking with Chavez, who told him that he was going to kill someone for the missing drugs,” Rivers wrote in the affidavit. “Dobbs said this conversation occurred at the residence he shared with Chavez. Dobbs was playing a video game when Chavez said, ‘Look at me.’ Dobbs said he looked at Chavez. Chavez said he was going to kill the person who stole their money.”
Days after the killing, on May 10, Dobbs, Alvarez and Chavez were all detained for questioning. Chavez was arrested on a misdemeanor warrant for probation violation, while Alvarez and Dobbs were released. After Chavez posted bond, he and Alvarez took Dobbs to the Devil’s Corral area on the north side of the Snake River Canyon — an area where all three men had gone on a previous occasion to shoot a 9 mm handgun — and the two murder suspects “interrogated him about what he had told law enforcement.”
“Dobbs said that during this questioning, he thought they might kill him,” Rivers wrote in the sworn affidavit. “Dobbs said that Chavez asked him about what he had told law enforcement and Alvarez yelled at him for even speaking with law enforcement.”
Prosecutors charged Chavez and Alvarez with intimidating a witness based on that incident, and Magistrate Judge Roger Harris entered no-contact orders between the two suspects and Dobbs.
Police also say Chavez talked about the killing in October while he was drunk and threatened to kill the detective.
“I just wanted to let you know, that kid who stole our money, I handled it,” Chavez allegedly told Dobbs. “I’m also going to get Ken Rivers, and when I say something is going to happen, it does.”
It apparently wasn’t the first time Chavez talked about the killing, though. In July, an inmate at the Twin Falls County Jail contacted police telling them that Chavez, in jail on a probation violation, was talking about Widaman’s murder.
“I met with this inmate who was upset about the homicide of a 15-year-old person and wanted to assist the Twin Falls Police in our investigation,” Rivers wrote. “This inmate became a confidential informant … and agreed to record conversations between himself and Chavez … (He) recorded a conversation between himself and Chavez where Chavez said the victim in the homicide owed him $700.”
Cellphone data showing contact between Chavez and Widaman also helped investigators zero in on the suspects, while data from cellphone towers showed Chavez’s phone in the area of the shooting at the time it was reported.
Several witnesses also identified the suspect vehicle as a dark Dodge Charger, which police linked back to Alvarez’s gray 2014 Dodge Charger. And several people who knew Widaman mentioned Chavez and Alvarez as possible suspects because of their feud over the Xanax that was never delivered.
At the scene of the shooting, police recovered five 9 mm shell casings, which were sent to a lab in Utah, court documents said. The forensic analysis showed Alvarez’s DNA — or the DNA from another male in his family — was on the casings.
Alvarez and Chavez are both being held without bond because of the gravity of their case and made their initial court appearances Wednesday via video from the jail. Alvarez was represented by the Twin Falls County Public Defender’s office, while Doug Nelson from the Roark Law Firm was at the hearing on Chavez’s behalf.
Nelson told the judge he would “pick a different time and day” to address the court “when I know more about the case.”
Both Alvarez and Chavez face 10 years to life in prison on the murder charges, and they could potentially face the death penalty. Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs’ office has 60 days to decide whether to seek it.
Both suspects are due back in court Dec. 30 for preliminary hearings.