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Publish Date: 5/7/2005

Death penalty a possibility
Defense: Slaying suspect has mental difficulties

GREELEY — A Greeley man described by his attorney as having profound “mental retardation” may face the death penalty if convicted in the murder of 78-year-old grandmother Mary Jane Meining of Platteville.

Terry James Sanchez of Greeley appeared in court Friday afternoon to be advised of his rights. He did not speak but sat hunched in his chair, the short sleeves of his orange jail jumpsuit sliding up to reveal numerous jailhouse tattoos.

Weld County sheriff’s deputies arrested Sanchez, 42, on Thursday evening. He has not yet been charged but was told Friday that the charges to be filed Tuesday will include burglary and first-degree murder. Prosecutors on Friday began laying the groundwork for a death penalty prosecution.

“The charges upon which he has been held but not yet charged with are in fact capital charges,” chief deputy District Attorney Michael Rourke said during the 20-minute hearing.

Authorities say they believe Sanchez broke into Meining’s rural home April 8 to steal jewelry to sell for drugs. Meining’s throat was slashed, sheriff’s deputies said. Her husband of 57 years, Don, was not home at the time.

Sanchez is a suspect in another area jewelry burglary, and investigators are looking to see if he can be tied to any others. Investigators say they identified Sanchez as the suspect after an informant tipped them off.

All court documents related to the case, including the autopsy and the arrest warrant, were ordered sealed Friday by Judge Roger Klein, who also imposed a gag order on attorneys, police and the Weld County Sheriff’s Office.

Sanchez’s attorney, public defender Tamara Brady, requested the gag order, saying publicity surrounding the case would make a fair trial hard. She also persuaded Klein to bar police officers and investigators from questioning Sanchez about other cases without her present.

“It appears that Mr. Sanchez has some profound mental issues and difficulties,” Brady said. “He is a very impressionable person.”

Brady then said her client suffers from “mental retardation.”

Sanchez has multiple burglary and trespassing convictions, and has served time in Colorado and New Mexico prisons, investigators said.

Sheriff’s officials also refused to release a mug shot of Sanchez, saying doing so might compromise photo lineups in the case, even though he appeared in open court Friday and television photojournalists were permitted to film him as he walked to and from the courtroom.

One of Meining’s sons, Scott Meining, attended the Friday afternoon hearing but declined to comment afterward.

In a phone interview with the Times-Call, his brother, Ron, lauded the sheriff’s office for its tenacious pursuit of his mother’s killer.

Investigators say they tied Sanchez to Meining’s death through jewelry stolen in another burglary. The family and friends offered a $25,000 reward for finding Meining’s killer, but it was unclear Friday if anyone will be able to claim it.

Sheriff’s investigators called family members together at about 9:30 p.m. Thursday to tell them about the arrest.

“First of all, I think the sheriff’s office has done a heck of a job. The family just can’t say enough about how they pursued it,” Ron Meining said. “They kept after it like a bunch of bloodhounds.”

He said that in a way, he’s wary about what will happen next.

“The possibility of a long, drawn-out trial ... it’s just a different set of unknowns,” Meining said.

Times-Call staff writer Jenn Ooton contributed to this report.

Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-684-5220, or by e-mail at thughes@times-call.com.

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