Murder suspect bound for trial

Court orders defendant held without bail

— A Moffat County District Court judge bound a defendant charged with murder over for trial Tuesday, following an approximate eight-hour preliminary hearing.

Terry Hankins faces nine total charges, including a sole count of first-degree murder.

Prosecutors from the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office contend Hankins murdered his wife, Cynthia Hankins, and then buried her body on his gold claim located three miles south of the Wyoming border in Moffat County last year.

A preliminary hearing is limited in purpose and used to determine if enough evidence exists for a defendant to stand trial.

Hankins also is charged with theft, three counts of forgery and possession of a controlled substance, all felonies. He also faces two misdemeanor counts of theft and abuse of a corpse, also a misdemeanor.

After hearing presentations from prosecutors and Hankins' public defenders, Chief Judge Michael O'Hara found sufficient evidence existed for Hankins to stand trial on all felony charges. Law does not require preliminary hearings for misdemeanors.

The judge also ordered the defendant held without bail.

The prosecution, led by Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James, introduced an audio recording of Hankins admitting to killing his wife to Joseph DeAngelo, District Attorney's Office chief investigator.

The recording was made during an interview with Hankins on Aug. 24, 2007, and consisted of separate one- and 11-minute clips. The defendant was interviewed several times that day, for about eight hours total.

Cynthia Hankins' death followed an altercation at the couple's Craig apartment complex June 3, 2007 and was in self-defense, Terry Hankins said on the recording.

Hankins told DeAngelo that he choked Cynthia Hankins for two to five minutes until she passed out, then got a crowbar from another room and hit her in the head, according to the audio recording.

"I was afraid she was going to revive and just kick the (expletive) out of me, kill me," Hankins said on the recording. He added that he thought he had "about a minute" before his wife awoke and attacked him, "so I better do something more."

The altercation began after Terry Hankins made a comment about his wife possibly having an extramarital affair.

Hankins also provided DeAngelo with the location of his wife's body, the chief investigator said.

Public defender Sheryl Uhlmann introduced statements her client made to investigators that described a combustible relationship between Terry and Cynthia Hankins. Those statements indicated Cynthia Hankins abused drugs and alcohol, substances that worsened her violent nature, and had a criminal record that included physical assaults.

Her client, the defense attorney said, was routinely the victim of domestic violence, in constant danger and attempted to leave his wife six times in a four-month span. He went back to her each time, Uhlmann said.

However, prosecutors contend that Hankins' use of the crowbar to kill his wife was not justified, especially after she was unconscious and presented no immediate danger.

Hankins said he feared for his life and alternative options, such as leaving the apartment or calling for help, were impossible because he was nude at the time of the incident and didn't know where his car keys were.

A neighbor in the Hankins' apartment complex at the time of the alleged murder testified that numerous apartments were occupied in the building and bars in the neighborhood were nearby and open at late hours.

In his closing, St. James said that Hankins was home, so his clothes were available to him and he could have gone to other residences or one of the bars to call for help.

Instead, he chose another option, he said.

"But rather he went to another room to retrieve a weapon," St. James said.

Brett Barkey, Moffat County chief deputy district attorney, handled arguments for the other charges against Hankins.

The theft and forgery charges stem from Hankins allegedly receiving three checks, totaling about $23,000, that didn't belong to him and endorsing and depositing the checks into his business account.

One check belonged to his wife and was deposited after she was killed.

Uhlmann said Hankins "believed he had authority" to deposit the check because "it was his wife and (the money) was being used to pay off her portion of a debt."

Another check for about $22,900 belonged to Valley Backhoe Service, a Baggs, Wyo., company, and was delivered to Hankins by mistake.

The possession of a controlled substance charge stems from authorities allegedly finding a Christmas card in Hankins' home with 10 pills identified as oxycodone taped inside.

Cynthia Hankins was reported missing in June.

The investigation into her disappearance and death has resulted in about 3,800 pages of reports, various search warrants and interviews with witnesses in Texas, Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico.

Cynthia Hankins' mother and sister, in Moffat County from Texas, were in court Tuesday observing. They were pleased upon learning of O'Hara's ruling that Hankins be bound over for trial.

Uhlmann requested Hankins' family members be sequestered from the preliminary hearing because they might be called as witnesses in the future and could be influenced by testimony heard in court. O'Hara overruled the request.

The public defender was successful in having one witness, a Hispanic man who lived in the same apartment complex as the Hankins' and speaks little English, sequestered from the proceeding.

Hankins is scheduled for an arraignment at 1 p.m. Jan. 30, at which time he could enter a plea.

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