Murder case resumes with pretrial testimony

A Craig man charged with murder told a Moffat County Sheriff's Office deputy that he believed he was in danger from his late wife and had to defend himself, the deputy testified Wednesday.

Terry Hankins, 71, is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the June 2007 death of his wife, 36-year-old Cynthia Hankins. Prosecutors allege he murdered his wife at their Breeze Street apartment in Craig, and then buried her body near his mine property, north of town, near Wyoming.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Deputy Gary Nichols, a 25-year law enforcement veteran, was assigned to ensure Hankins didn't interfere with search warrants on his property in July and August 2007.

Nichols told the court he'd met Hankins on numerous occasions before, and that the two were on friendly terms.

During the August search, Nichols said Hankins complained of stress, fatigue, harassment from the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office and was having difficulty concentrating.

At one point, while authorities were searching the property, Hankins leaned over a workbench and looked down.

"Gary," Nichols recalled Hankins telling him, "I had to do something. She was going to kill me."

Nichols also testified that Hankins said he was "concerned about spending the rest of his life behind bars."

He told the deputy he was a victim of verbal and physical abuse from his wife, that he was afraid of her and that she had once tried to strangle him with an electrical cord.

Later, Nichols said he showed Hankins compassion, and that he advised the long-time miner "the best thing you could do now is get (her) remains back to the family so she could be remembered."

"I told Terry that Cynthia's family needed to have an opportunity to be able to go to her grave on holidays, such as Memorial Day, to remember their daughter and mother," Nichols wrote in a report about the conversation.

Hankins "teared up," after the comment, Nichols said.

Hankins later told Nichols he had an attorney and that he didn't believe the attorney would want him to make more statements. The two did not speak about Cynthia Hankins after that, Nichols said.

Nichols said he'd met Hankins on numerous occasions, that he had not shown violent tendencies, and that his impression of Hankins was of someone who "just wanted to be left alone."

Nichols was one of several witnesses called to testify Wednesday, the third day of a five-day motions hearing in District Court.

The session concluded with Detective Jen Kenney, a Craig Police Department officer and one of the primary investigators in the case, on the stand and the court hearing the opening minutes of an interview with Hankins at the mine property.

The recording and her testimony will resume at 8:30 a.m. today.

Attorneys in the case - Hankins' public defenders Trevor McFee and Sheryl Uhlmann, and prosecutors Carl Stahl and Jeremy Snow - are attempting to resolve various motions, including defense motions to suppress statements and evidence and to change venue.

The case is scheduled for a two-week trial, beginning Dec. 1 in District Court.

Testimony later in the day Wednesday indicated Cynthia Hankins may have met with violence.

Barry Nelson, a Bureau of Land Management ranger, told the court he assisted with an August 2007 search warrant at the Hankins mine property. Beneath a sand pile, authorities recovered clothes, plastic bags and body parts, he said.

Nelson said he received a letter from Hankins in April 2008 that included a comment that he "buried his wife with Native American ceremonies," and some of her possessions.

One of the defense motions is seeking to suppress the alleged letter from Hankins.

Yvonne Gustin, who was Hankins' landlord at the Breeze Street apartment where he lived with his wife, testified that Hankins terminated his residency June 8, 2007.

She said he wasn't acting strangely when they met that day for a final walk through the apartment, and that she'd had no complaints about Hankins.

Kenney was called as the final witness of the day.

An audio recording, played shortly into her testimony, was taken from an Aug. 24, 2007, meeting with herself, District Attorney's Office investigator Joe DeAngelo, and Hankins, who asked for the meeting.

On the recording, Hankins was heard talking about a variety of subjects, including financial problems, a proposed solution to a financial allegation made against him, his history in mining and potential future business opportunities.

He also spoke about his wife, who, despite their problems and his past descriptions of her, had taken "good care" of him, he said.

"There was a lot of things I couldn't complain about Cynthia," he said.

Michael O'Hara, chief judge of the 14th Judicial District, hasn't ruled on motions yet. On Wednesday afternoon, the judge said he was concerned that the motions hearing might not be finished by week's end, as scheduled.

Stahl, chief deputy district attorney, told the court he had more witnesses to call and at least six hours of audio recordings to present.

Joshua Roberts can be reached at 875-1791, or jroberts@craigdailypress.com.

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