Cynthia Hankins and Terry Hankins

Cynthia Hankins and Terry Hankins

Hankins sentenced to life without parole for murder

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— Before a judge imposed sentencing Wednesday on Terry Hankins, who was convicted of murdering his wife, the defendant spoke with his attorneys in an empty courtroom.

They didn't talk about law or his trial.

Hankins told them he had been teaching vocabulary to another inmate at Moffat County Jail and that he saw a benefit in the "team effort" of inmates working together on jigsaw puzzles.

He also said he doesn't care for sports, even skiing, because the latter tears up the "beautiful Colorado mountains."

About 15 minutes before, a jury of 10 men and two women found him guilty of first-degree murder, a Class 1 felony, and abuse of a corpse, a Class 2 misdemeanor, in connection with the June 2007 death of his wife, Cynthia.

The conversation between Hankins and his attorneys was a brief moment of calm in a trial that included evidence Michael O'Hara, chief judge of the 14th Judicial District, said was the most gruesome he had ever seen.

O'Hara sentenced Hankins to life in prison without parole, adding that he had no discretion in his decision. First-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence in Colorado.

According to three recorded confessions Hankins made to law enforcement, he choked his wife unconscious, hit her in the face with a crow bar and then smothered her with a pillow.

Hankins said he cut Cynthia's body into pieces and buried her remains on his gold claim north of Craig, where they were eventually unearthed by law enforcement.

As the jury read the verdict - to a courtroom half-filled with Craig Police Department officers and Moffat County Sheriff's Office deputies - Hankins gave no reaction.

After the courtroom emptied, Sheryl Uhlmann, one of Hankins' public defenders, teared up. Scott Troxell, his other attorney, told Hankins to call if he needed anything.

It was a relatively quick end to a trial that began Aug. 10, more than two weeks ago, and included dozens of witnesses and more than 100 pounds of evidence.

The jury reached its decision about two hours after it began deliberating at 8:30 a.m.

In addition to life in prison, O'Hara levied $652.50 in fines and fees against the defendant.

Although the judge did not make any comment about the case during the verdict or sentencing, Cynthia's mother and niece, as well as Detective Jen Kenney, with the Craig Police Department, all addressed the court before Hankins was sentenced.

"It's over, but I still have a hole in my heart," said Cynthia's mother, Willie Fay Runnels, of Texas. "I can go back and tell the kids the good news, but I can't bring their mother back to them."

Octavia Williams, Cynthia's 22-year-old niece, also of Texas, said she has been able to forgive Hankins for his crime.

"I hope he can forgive himself, but until he admits it was not in self-defense, he won't be able to," she said.

Williams added that she did not approve of the way the defense put Cynthia's character on trial to defend the man who murdered her and dismembered her body.

The defense claimed Cynthia was an abusive person and that she beat Hankins the night of her death causing him to kill her in self-defense.

Uhlmann and Troxell also brought up previous police reports from Texas that involved Cynthia attacking or threatening family and boyfriends, including her mother and children.

"She was a great mother," Williams said. "She was not perfect. She did have drug problems and issues with the law, but she loved her kids. She never hurt them.

"On behalf of my mother," Williams added, referring to Cynthia's sister, Gail Williams, "she wanted to say she has forgiven him, and she thanks God this issue has been laid to rest."

Now that the trial is over, Octavia said she plans to continue her education to become a forensics examiner for law enforcement.

"I want to help families in situations like this get rest and find peace," she said. "Without that, even though it is kind of gross, I guess, they won't be able to get the evidence and the information they need to arrest somebody."

Hankins declined to comment before sentencing. Too much had been said already, he told the court.

Jeremy Snow, deputy district attorney for the 14th Judicial District, said his office is happy with the verdict.

Attorneys for the defense could not be reached for comment.

"The District Attorney's Office is very pleased with the hard work the jury put into this case : and very happy that justice was done for the victim and the victim's family," Snow said.

According to court records, other pending charges against Hankins - one count of felony theft, one count of felony possession of a controlled substance, three counts of felony forgery and two counts of misdemeanor theft - were dismissed this week.

Snow said the charges were dismissed because the District Attorney's Office couldn't meet the speedy trial deadline. The murder trial was unexpectedly delayed from earlier this summer and prevented the pending charges from going to court.

Sheriff Tim Jantz said Hankins will be transferred to the Colorado Department of Corrections when the state has room for him. The state will interview Hankins before deciding which facility to place him in.

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