Traci Cunningham guilty of murdering her mother near Gypsum
GEORGETOWN — In one of Traci Cunningham’s first hearings, District Attorney Bruce Brown said she drove her mother to an isolated spot 15 miles south of Gypsum, and as her mother was running for her life, shot her to death.
After a 10-day trial, a jury took less than three hours to agree with him.
Cunningham is guilty of first-degree murder, the jury said, because she drove her mother Penelope (Penny, for short) — a retired nun and social studies teacher — 177 miles from Aurora up a muddy gravel road south of Gypsum. There she shot Penny five times in her body and head, at least once when Penelope was already on the ground, bleeding to death.
That was late afternoon on Thanksgiving Day 2013.
The man who found her the next morning thought Penelope’s body was an animal carcass, until he got close enough to see that part of her face had been shot off.
After they drove west from Aurora in a borrowed car, Penny Cunningham told her brother that Traci was driving them to Arizona to meet Traci’s boyfriend and his family, whom Traci concocted. Instead, Traci drove Penny to her death.
Guilty on all counts
Traci, dressed in a crisp white shirt with her hair styled short and colored brown, stood stone still as the verdicts were read. Her attorneys, Cynthia Jones and Dan Shaffer, also betrayed little emotion.
However, Traci finally broke down and wept silently as the jury foreman read the last of the six verdicts: guilty on all counts ranging from first-degree murder to misdemeanor theft.
She buried her face in her right hand and cried quietly as the jury was polled, each of the four women and eight men confirming the unanimous guilty verdicts.
Shaffer had argued that the prosecution’s evidence was nothing more than “maybes” and were not enough to convict his client.
The jury disagreed.
Brown and Deputy District Attorney Courtney Gilbert prosecuted the case, detailing the case against Traci — mud on her tires and boots putting her at the scene, gunshot residue on her face, motive, cell phone records tracing Traci’s movements … the list also includes Traci’s videotaped confession.
Finally, the mountain of evidence was too high for the defense attorneys, Shaffer and Jones, to chop down.
The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office did a “terrific job in their investigation,” Brown said.
“This was a challenging case because of the emotional nature of matricide (killing your mother),” Brown said. “It was hard to separate the sadness from the evidence, but the jury did an outstanding job of that.”
The trial was originally scheduled for three weeks.
“The evidence was overwhelming, and they listened intently to the evidence,” Brown said.
After District Court Judge Russell Granger thanked them, the jury was somber as they filed from the room, a few casting quick glances back at Traci, still silently crying and hunched over the defendant’s table, her eyes downcast and her face in her right hand.
Automatic life sentence
With Traci visibly shaking at the defendant’s table, and Jones and Shaffer trying to be what comfort they could, attorneys tried to agree on a date for sentencing.
Judge Granger offered to hand down sentence immediately, since, as he said, he has no leeway in first-degree murder cases, and because everyone was free since the trial ended a week early.
The sentence is automatic and will be handed down this morning.
Traci Cunningham will spend the rest of her life in prison, without the possibility of parole.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and email@example.com.
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Tucked into an overgrowth of sage south of Sopris Elementary School along Airport Road, two dilapidated, concrete walls raise new questions about the Cardiff town site.