William and Nancy Styler had an affinity for water lilies, having started the Victoria Conservancy in Denver, which provided the flowers for gardens throughout the world.
A 2008 report in the Denver Post detailed the couple’s passion for cultivating the plants, but both state and federal court documents paint a different picture of the husband, who once told an attorney that his ongoing legal struggle — one that involved him suing a firm he once was a stakeholder in and later his lawyer for overbilling him — made him want to commit “suicide by cop.”
William Styler, 65, and his wife, Nancy, 62, face charges of first-degree murder and first-degree conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Nancy Pfister. Pfister, 57, who was found dead on the evening of Feb. 26 at the home that she had rented out to the Styler couple.
A Jan. 24 Facebook posting by Pfister said that “the people that were supposedly taking care of my house Are not doing what they said they would do and they’re not paying rent and they haven’t paid utilities.”
William Styler apparently had his own frustrations in trying to collect a debt of more than $800,000 from a lawyer who once represented him. The once-licensed anesthesiologist had filed complaints in the Denver County District Court, the Colorado Supreme Court Attorney Regulation Counsel and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Denver. The common thread among his complaints was his futile efforts to collect the judgment. “I found myself so traumatized by the experience,” he once wrote in 2009 to the state Supreme Court.
As recently as Nov. 18, William Styler had written the court’s Attorney Regulation Counsel — using the West Buttermilk Road home that he rented from Pfister as his address — about his frustrations in collecting money from a Denver lawyer.
That lawyer, John Powell, once had represented Styler in his lawsuit against his former company, Colorado Anesthesia Consultants. The dispute was over software that Styler had a part in creating. The software’s purpose: to streamline anesthesia scheduling.
Styler hired Powell in 2005 to aid him in the lawsuit he had filed in 2003 against Colorado Anesthesia Consultants. Styler lost the case, but Powell billed him more than $610,000 for his legal services, Supreme Court documents show.
In turn, in 2010, Styler sued Powell for overcharging him, and Powell — who was placed on two years probation by the Colorado Supreme Court on July 11, 2011, for overbilling Styler and another client — later filed for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy protected Powell from paying Styler the default judgment of more than $800,000, which had been issued by Denver District Court. In December 2012, Styler filed what’s called an “adversary action” in Powell’s bankruptcy case in an effort to collect the judgment.
Powell did not return a telephone message Tuesday, but his partner, Phillip Theune, said the news that Styler and his wife are murder suspects came as a surprise.
“I spoke to (Styler) a lot,” Theune said, adding that he had a number of frustrations with Styler.
Theune said Styler had a “very big opinion of himself.”
Yet the legal struggle, based on court documents, had worn down Styler.
“In my opinion, Dr. Styler was unusually vulnerable to being victimized by an attorney over-billing a client,” wrote Paul Gordon, a Denver lawyer who filed an affidavit in Styler’s adversary action in Powell’s bankruptcy case, which was filed in Denver.
The affidavit, dated May 5, 2013, said that “Dr. Styler repeatedly expressed suicidal thoughts. Dr. Styler also told Ed Aro (another attorney) that Dr. Styler was fantasizing about ‘suicide by cop.’ Dr. Styler expressed his thoughts to his attorneys and others.”
Meanwhile, on June 24, 2013, Powell wrote the Attorney Regulation Counsel, which also had been handling another complaint from Styler about Powell. Styler had contended that Powell had violated terms of his probation. Powell contended Styler was getting too close to the situation.
“For a period of time, a person I have good reason to believe was Mr. Styler was personally keeping my house under intermittent observation,” Powell wrote. “In fact, his presence was such that my wife told me that she had filed a police report. Further, a neighbor of mine reported that he confronted Mr. Styler as he, Mr. Styler, was rummaging through my home mailbox one afternoon.”
Powell goes on to say that he had no obligation to pay the judgment to Styler because the judgment had been discharged by the bankruptcy case.
“It is true that I have stated that I will not pay anything toward the satisfaction of Mr. Styler’s judgment,” Powell wrote.
For his part, on July 7, 2013, Styler wrote that he had observed Powell’s house “to see if Mr. Powell still lived at his address of records.”
Data maintained by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation show that neither William nor his wife had a criminal record in Colorado.