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Traci Cunningham Guilty of Killing Mom After Trip to Car for Beef Jerky

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In December 2013, we told you about the arrest of Traci Cunningham on charges that she murdered her adoptive mother, Penelope Cunningham, and left her body in a remote part of Eagle County.

Traci Cunningham has now been found guilty of the crime.

But it wasn't a smooth road to a conviction.

As we've reported, Penelope was a former nun turned elementary school social studies teacher at Maxwell Elementary School.

An excerpt from her Maxwell bio reads, "I am here to give my students the best fourth grade education possible. All they have to do is pay attention, participate and do their best. No lazy brains allowed!"

Penelope adopted Traci, who's now thirty, when she was in her middle teens.

In recent years, the pair lived together in the Aurora area — but in November 2013, according to Traci's arrest affidavit, they drove toward Grand Junction over Thanksgiving break with plans to hike and take photos.

Then, on November 28 of that year, as they headed up Gypsum Creek Road, near the town of Gypsum in Eagle County, an argument took place that was apparently serious enough for Penelope to get out of their car and start walking.

Here's a look at the area.

The affidavit's narrative maintains that Traci got out of the vehicle, too, then headed back to it in search of some beef jerky. But instead of finding a snack, she reportedly "encountered" a Springfield XDM 9-millimeter handgun.

The gun had been packed by Penelope, Traci told investigators.

At that point, Traci allegedly picked up the gun, but as she began walking up the road, she's quoted as saying that "everything goes black" — and when the darkness lifted, she saw Penelope on the ground, mortally wounded.

She'd been shot five times in various parts of her body, including her back.

Traci's reaction? She said she checked her mom's pulse and then her cell phone, which wasn't getting a signal, then ran to the car and drove back to Aurora, all the while pretending that what had happened was "a bad dream."

The body was discovered the following morning, and it didn't take long for authorities to zero in on Traci as the most likely suspect. She wasn't around at her home in Aurora, but law enforcers who searched the place did locate some ammo and an empty gun case.

At that point, they pinged Traci's cell phone, which led them to a bagel shop in Lakewood, where representatives of that town's police department brought her in for questioning. Her arrest for the slaying followed shortly thereafter.

The sensational nature of the crime, and Traci's insistence that she couldn't remember killing her mother, resulted in scads of media coverage — and that proved problematic for prosecutors. As 7News notes, the first attempt to convict Traci ended in a mistrial; publicity made it impossible to seat a jury.

However, the trial was moved to Clear Creek County, and yesterday, a jury there found Traci guilty of first-degree murder, as well as tampering with evidence and firearm theft.

Her sentence: life in prison.

Look below to see Traci's booking photo, followed by a CBS4 report broadcast in the wake of her arrest.

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