Preliminary arguments started Tuesday for a Carson City woman accused of buying human remains.

Nanette Birdsell, 36, is accused of exchanging $400 cash and a large sum of methamphetamine for a human skull pulled out of a crypt belonging to Susan and Henry Clayton nearly two years ago. The Claytons were one of Carson City's founding families.

In front of Judge John Tatro, David Shaughnessy, 39, Birdsell's friend at the time of the incident, testified that he and his then girlfriend, Janice Hershey, went to Lone Mountain Cemetery and on Nevada Day 1997, pried open the crypt with a car jack and stole the skull with the promise that they would receive the cash and drugs from Birdsell.

He later testified that soon after they robbed the Clayton grave, they met with Birdsell to make the transaction.

His testimony against Birdsell was part of a plea bargain he made with prosecutors after he turned himself in for the theft in July. A separate harassment charge against Shaughnessy was dropped and he was promised by prosecutors that they would recommend probation at the time of his sentencing.

The accuracy of any testimony provided by Shaughnessy will likely be challenged at Birdsell's trial because Tuesday's testimony conflicted with taped statements he made the day of his arrest.

In the July statement, he claimed that Birdsell was the one who broke into the crypt and stole the skull. On Tuesday, he reversed the claim and said that he and Hershey drove right up to the crypt in his 1969 Chevy Impala and did it themselves.

Shaughnessy, who had stored another Clayton skull in his storage unit for nearly two years said he decided to turn Birdsell in because the theft had been bothering him for the duration of his possession.

The skull that Shaughnessy sold to Birdsell was allegedly that of Susan Clayton, while the skull he kept in his storage shed was that of Henry Clayton.

Also testifying Tuesday was David Stultz, the cemetery sexton. His job includes management of the Lone Mountain Cemetery.

Stultz said he had seen and talked to Birdsell on several occasions near the time that he discovered the open crypt door.

"She came into the office a couple of times inquiring about people in the Clayton crypt," he said. "She stated she was a relative (of the Claytons) and was worried about one of the caskets."

Stultz said he became suspicious of Birdsell and another man who accompanied her because they appeared to be under the influence of drugs.

"I thought they were history people at first and then things got weird," Stultz said. He added that he called Carson City Parks and Recreation to see if he could have Birdsell and the man kept out of the cemetery.

Previous to her indictment on the charge of buying human remains, Birdsell plead guilty to felony trafficking and possession of methamphetamine which landed her five years of probation, provided she reforms herself. The sentence was handed down on July 12 by Judge Michael Griffin.

When she was back in court, the judge, deciding that she had made substantial progress on her addiction treatment, decided to allow her to remain free on her own recognizance and also dismissed the $15,000 bail penalty that had been placed on her at the time of her arraignment.

"The best thing (parole and probation) told me last time was that since she was arrested, she has been doing very well, she has been clean, she hasn't been hanging around with the same people," Griffin said at the time.

A continuance of the preliminary trial has been set for 4 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 21, where defense attorney Kay Ellen Armstrong and Deputy District Attorney Anne Langer will be questioning Carson City Sheriff's detective Steve Johnson, the man who gathered testimonial evidence in the case.


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