As it has been for most of Terry Hankins' murder trial, the moments before his wife's death were a focal point during attorneys' closing arguments Tuesday.
Elizabeth Oldham, 14th Judicial District Attorney, began the proceedings in Moffat County District Court by describing how Hankins' wife, Cynthia, died as told by her husband to law enforcement.
"The last few moments of Cynthia's life were filled with misery, pain and suffering," Oldham said.
When public defender Sheryl Uhlmann gave her closing for Terry's defense, she said the prosecution failed to disprove that Terry killed his wife in self-defense, despite rhetoric and physical evidence.
"I'm not going to stand up here and give dramatics," Uhlmann said. "On June 3, 2007, Mr. Hankins killed Cynthia in self-defense because he had to, because she was about to kill him."
Hankins is charged with first-degree murder, a Class 1 felony, and abuse of a corpse, a Class 2 misdemeanor, in connection with his wife's death.
Jury deliberations are scheduled to resume at 8:30 a.m. today in District Court. The jury had the option to deliberate into the evening Tuesday, however, it decided to break for the day and resume this morning.
The attorneys have agreed that Terry killed Cynthia on June 3, 2007, in their apartment, and that Terry subsequently dismembered her body and buried her remains on his gold claim north of Craig.
They also agree Cynthia's death included these events:
• At some point, Terry choked Cynthia unconscious.
• He retrieved a crowbar from another room in the apartment, returned to Cynthia and hit her twice in the head.
• After striking her, Terry put a pillow over her face.
What the prosecution and defense disagree on is Cynthia's role in escalating the initial fight from a verbal confrontation to a physical one.
The prosecution has introduced three recorded confessions made by Terry to law enforcement, which include statements from Terry about the events of that night.
Oldham said each of them also showed Terry was the initial aggressor in the physical fight that led to Cynthia's death.
In the first, Terry stated he started things by choking his wife. In the second, he said he choked his wife after she elbowed him on the bed while they were lying together.
In the third, Terry said he shoved Cynthia off the bed, then she grabbed a fan, struck him and he put her in a chokehold.
Uhlmann said those recordings were made by a man, referring to Terry, who has been shown to have bad memory at an old age, and who told law enforcement on the same recordings that the whole event was a blur.
The burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove every part of its case, including the belief that Terry acted out of aggression, not self-defense, Uhlmann said.
Those statements do not do that because, in one, Cynthia starts elbowing him, and in another, Cynthia grabs a fan to use as a weapon, she added.
The jury can believe Terry's account of Cynthia's behavior because it has heard a lot of evidence about her tendency toward violence, Uhlmann said.
She referred to testimony from an ex-boyfriend and the prosecution's investigators that Cynthia had a lengthy criminal history that included several assaults against others, including family members.
"The prosecution wants you to believe this woman was in prison in Texas for many years : and when she moves to Craig, Colorado, it's as if she has been transformed," Uhlmann said.
She also asked the jury to apply the facts in the case as they would any other, including a situation where an elderly woman was abused by a younger man, as Uhlmann said Cynthia abused Terry.
On the prosecution's rebuttal to the defense's closing, Deputy District Attorney Jeremy Snow said there is no logical conclusion from the evidence other than murder.
He pointed to the electric fan as the linchpin of the self-defense argument, because that is the weapon Cynthia allegedly beat him with before Terry choked her.
"Without this fan, all we have is a shoving match," he said.
Snow said Terry has admitted to burying all of Cynthia's possessions with her remains, which law enforcement uncovered.
However, Terry did not bury the fan, and Snow said no person who was in fear of his life would keep their attacker's potential murder weapon.
Instead of burying it, Snow added, the fan stayed above Terry's bed until law enforcement retrieved it about two years after Cynthia's death.
"This fan was blowing gentle breezes over Mr. Hankins as he slept from June 3 until August," Snow said.
However, he added that even if the fan was used, Hankins did not have a legal right to kill her once she was choked unconscious and reasonably unable to threaten her husband.
"That's not self-defense," Snow said. "That's murder."
Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org.