Former suspect testifies at murder trial

Steve Garrison
Defendant Cody Soto listens on Jan. 20 during his trial at the Eleventh Judicial District Court in Aztec.

AZTEC — A patrol sergeant, three forensic scientists and several friends and associates of Brandy Robinson testified Thursday about the circumstances of her death and their knowledge of her whereabouts in the days before her body was found in Head Canyon in 2013.

The witnesses were testifying in the trial of Cody Soto who is accused of killing Robinson, a former girlfriend.

Michael “Sparky”Graham, 43, who initially was a suspect, testified that he knew Robinson for about six years before she was found dead on June 22 on a dirt road near the Bisti Highway.

Graham said he and Robinson had previously been intimate, but were just friends at the time of her murder.

Graham said during the early morning hours of June 20, 2013, he and Robinson drove together to a motel in Farmington, where they met David “D.C.” Carter.

The three of them went to the Walmart on East Main Street, where Carter and Robinson purchased a prepaid “burner” phone and red hair dye.

Graham said he smoked marijuana and methamphetamine with Robinson and Carter at the motel room. Carter and Robinson wanted to be alone at the motel, according to Graham, so he left and went to Nolan Reeves’ residence in south Farmington.

After approximately an hour, Graham testified, he returned to the motel room, picked up Robinson and they both then went back to Reeves’ house. He said it was almost sunrise when they arrived at the house.

Graham said he left the residence at approximately 10 a.m. He said Robinson had already left on foot by that time.

Reeves confirmed, in testimony Thursday, that Graham and Robinson came to his residence on that day, but said it was between 10 a.m. and noon. Reeves he was upset that Soto called his residence numerous times after Robinson left looking for her.

George Dowdy, a neighbor of Reeves, said Robinson came to his residence shortly after 1 p.m. to sell him drugs.

He said she left after about a half hour.

According to Dowdy’s phone records, which were presented as evidence to the jury, Robinson sent a text message to Dowdy at 9:46 p.m. to say hello, but he did not respond to the message.

Graham said after he left Reeves’ residence on the morning of June 20 he expected to see her again at Reeves’ house that evening, but when he arrived, she was not there. Graham said he had no knowledge what happened to Robinson after he last saw her at Reeves’ residence.

Brandy Robinson’s mother, Tammy Robinson, told the jury Wednesday that she “did not care” for Graham and did not consider him a “good person.”

Tammy Robinson told the detectives who notified her of Brandy Robinson’s death, “I knew Sparky was going to kill her,” according to a police report.

Soto, who is charged with first-degree murder, also told detectives he believed Graham murdered Robinson.

San Juan County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Terry McCoy testified Wednesday he conducted two interviews with Soto – the first on June 22, 2013, and again on July 1, 2013.

The jury listened to audio recordings from both interviews.

Soto told McCoy during the first interview that Graham had “killed people” before and Robinson might have been with him, according to the recording.

“He’s that type that when you look at him, you get that scared feeling,” Soto said on the recording.

McCoy told the jury Wednesday that he did not tell Soto that Robinson was dead during the June 22 interview, but instead said she was missing.

He said he did so due to Soto being a person of interest in the murder. McCoy said Soto asked several times who reported Robinson missing, which he found suspicious.

Defense attorney Christian Hatfield pointed out during the cross-examination of McCoy that Soto used the present tense when talking about Robinson, suggesting he believed she was still alive.

In the interview, Soto said he was “concerned” about Robinson and he referred to Robinson’s children as if they were his own. “I’m not the biological father, but I’ve always loved them like my own,” he said.

Soto said in the July 1, 2013, interview with detectives that he believed Graham killed Robinson.

By that time, sheriff’s detectives had seized two of Graham’s vehicles as evidence and searched a room he occupied at his parent’s house on La Plata Highway.

However, a DNA expert for the state, Margot Mikeska, testified Thursday that no DNA found on items near where Robinson's body was discovered or on her body could be matched to either Soto, Graham, Carter or seven other persons who submitted DNA samples.

Bonnie Knoll, a state fingerprint analyst, told the jury Thursday that no fingerprints belonging to Graham or Soto were found on items at the scene.

Several knives were seized from Graham’s room during the search of his parent’s house on La Plata Highway.  

Mikeska said none of the knives seized tested positive for blood.

No blood was found in Graham’s vehicle, nor in a Cadillac belonging to Soto’s roommate, according to Mikeska.

Mikeska confirmed in cross-examination that DNA profiles had not been provided for several of Robinson's associates, including Reeves.

Hannah Kastenbaum, a state medical investigator, told the jury Thursday that Robinson had sustained seventeen stab wounds and six slashing-style wounds, some of which Robinson could have suffered while defending herself.

Kastenbaum said, however, Robinson died due to two specific stab wounds, one that pierced her heart and another that nicked the jugular vein in her neck.

A toxicology report indicated Robinson had marijuana, methamphetamine and amphetamine in her system at the time of her death, according to Kastenbaum.

She testified during cross-examination that, given the lack of blood at the scene where police found Robinson’s body, it was fair to presume that Robinson was stabbed at a separate location.

Kastenbaum said the blood that pooled in Robinson’s body after death had congealed by the time the autopsy was performed, which suggested she had been dead at least 18 hours.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.