Attorneys attack murder investigation at trial

Steve Garrison

AZTEC – Defense attorneys for Cody Soto attacked the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office investigation into the fatal stabbing of Soto’s 29-year-old ex-girlfriend, Brandy Robinson, in June 2013 as Soto's murder trial continued Wednesday.

Attorney Liane Kerr said during the cross-examination of detective Sgt. Candice Montoya — the lead detective during the investigation into Robinson’s death — that there were several “loose ends” in the case, including a lack of physical evidence connecting Soto, 26, to the crime.

Kerr also claimed detectives failed to follow up on leads, including those related to Robinson’s involvement in drug trafficking and her association with several men who saw her in the days leading up to her death.

“What are all these old men doing with this young woman?” Kerr asked Montoya during cross-examination.

Sheriff’s office Capt. Cory Tanner, who was detective lieutenant in June 2013, testified Wednesday that Robinson’s murder was difficult to investigate due to the “lifestyle” of those involved.

“There was drug usage, transience, sleeping in different houses, using different people’s phones,” he said.

Both Kerr and her co-counsel, Christian Hatfield, also challenged the methods detectives used to question Soto on July 9, 2013, and on July 10, 2013.

Kerr characterized the detectives' questioning of Soto in the two interviews as “two cats on a mouse.”

“And Cody was in the corner, right?” Kerr asked Montoya.

Jurors have heard more than a week of testimony and evidence regarding Soto’s alleged involvement in the death of Robinson, whose nude body was found by detectives near the Bisti Highway on June 22, 2013.

A crime scene investigator with the sheriff’s office testified on Jan. 20 — the first day of trial — that Robinson’s body was found at the bottom of an embankment near a dirt road located just south of Farmington.

The investigator said a trail of disturbed dirt and blood led to Robinson’s body, and she found numerous items in the area, including Robinson’s broken black-frame glasses, two pieces of a sex toy, two condoms, a beer bottle, red plastic cups and a black sock.

Several associates of Robinson and Soto have testified, including former suspects and persons of interest in the case.

A state DNA expert testified on Jan. 21 that no DNA evidence belonging to Soto or nine other individuals was found at the crime scene. Nor were fingerprints belonging to Soto or a former suspect, Michael “Sparky” Graham, found at the scene, according to a state fingerprint analyst.

On Friday and Tuesday, jurors watched a video recording of the two interviews Soto conducted with detectives on July 9, 2013, and July 10, 2013, in which he allegedly admits to stabbing Robinson.

However, Soto quickly recanted the alleged confession during the July 9, 2013, interview and provided detectives with information that was inconsistent with evidence in the case.

On Wednesday, Kerr emphasized to the jury that Soto denied killing Robinson approximately 50 times during the two days he was questioned, but detectives persisted and pressured Soto by claiming, falsely, that his alibi had “broke open” and by suggesting his DNA was found at the crime scene.

Kerr also said Soto seems to state “stabbed her,” not “I stabbed her,” during questioning on July 9, 2013.

Montoya and Tanner reiterated during testimony Wednesday that they heard Soto admit to stabbing Robinson during questioning on July 9, 2013.

Montoya admitted during cross-examination that she briefly placed Soto in handcuffs on July 9, 2013, after she became frustrated with him, which she acknowledged was a mistake and potentially “coercive.” Tanner took the handcuffs off Soto and told him he was not under arrest, according to video footage from the questioning. Both detectives also said Soto did not appear to be under the influence of any substances during questioning.

Kerr has indicated in a pretrial motion that she intends to call as a witness an expert in false confessions.

During cross-examination, Hatfield criticized Tanner’s decision to allow detective Justin Rieker to be involved in the investigation into Robinson’s death, including Soto's questioning on July 10, 2013. Hatfield told jurors that Rieker’s mother was in a romantic relationship with Wes Thompson, who was previously identified as a person of interest in Robinson’s death.

Hatfield suggested that Thompson called Rieker numerous times during the investigation and later attempted to claim a reward for information offered by San Juan County Crime Stoppers.

Tanner said he tried to minimize Rieker’s involvement in the investigation, but said Rieker was one of his best detectives.

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