Pitkin County District Judge Gail Nichols today delayed the setting of a preliminary hearing for three suspects accused of first-degree murder in the slaying of Aspen native Nancy Pfister.
Though Nichols had wanted to set a date for the hearing during the proceeding, defense attorneys for William Styler III, his wife, Nancy Styler, and Kathy Carpenter asked for more time in order to review large volumes of discovery information which they say prosecutors only began providing last week.
After some discussion between the attorneys and Nichols about the type of computer hardware required to store the information, Nichols agreed to the request and scheduled another court proceeding for April 23 at 9 a.m. for the purpose of setting the preliminary hearing. Such hearings are conducted to determine whether prosecutors have cause to move a case forward.
Prosecutors Scott Turner, of the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Glenwood Springs, and Andrea Bryan, of the Aspen office, did not object to the delay.
Nichols expressed concern that defense attorneys have yet to file motions requesting bond for their clients. In homicide cases, a defense attorney must provide a written request for bond. All three defendants are being held in detention facilities in separate counties without the opportunity to post bond.
William Styler is represented by Tina Fang, chief trial lawyer of the Glenwood Springs office of the public defender, along with deputy public defender Sara Steele, who works out of Aspen. Nancy Styler’s counsel consists of Garth McCarty, of Glenwood Springs, and Beth Krulewitch, of Aspen. Carpenter’s attorneys are Greg Greer, of Glenwood Springs, and Kathleen Lord, of Denver.
Nichols suggested that the defense attorneys file motions requesting bond before the April 23 court date.
Fang said a preliminary hearing in late May or early June would work well for her.
“I don’t know what we have,” she said of the massive amount of discovery information she has to examine.
Also on Wednesday, Nichols addressed a few motions filed by Nancy Styler’s attorneys. McCarty and Krulewitch have asked that the media not be given access to their client, who is being held in the Eagle County Jail. They also wanted a protection order separating Nancy Styler from “jailhouse snitches,” a term used to describe inmates or undercover law-enforcement personnel who seek information from jailed defendants and turn it over to prosecutors or investigators.
McCarty said such protections for his client becomes more pressing “as she’s bumped from jail to jail.” Following the arrest of the Stylers on March 3, they were held in the Pitkin County jail. Nancy Styler was later moved to Eagle County, while Carpenter is being housed in Garfield County.
Bryan objected, saying the court has no authority to dictate how jailers run their jails. But McCarty said there is “nothing onerous about the court asking the jail not to put my client in the presence of known jailhouse snitches.” Prosecutors could use snitches as “a way to manufacture evidence,” he said.
Nichols denied the motion, saying that Nancy Styler is not obligated to consent to media interviews. She said she has no authority over the press, and that such an order might violate the First Amendment.
“The defendant can always say no” to reporters, she said.
As for the concern about snitches, Nichols said she doesn’t believe it will become an actual problem.
“I’m declining to grant that motion simply because I believe it’s not necessary,” she said.
Krulewitch asked for a protection order for Nancy Styler preventing people from accessing jail-visitor logs, an issue that came up at a previous hearing. Nichols pointed out that she has already ruled on the issue, saying it is up to the custodian of the records — the county and the Sheriff’s Office — to decide if other entities, such as prosecutors, may have access.
“As far as I know, they are not disclosing them,” the judge said.
As for the April 23 court hearing, Nichols said she expects it to last about an hour.
The body of Pfister, who was 57, was discovered inside a closet inside her West Buttermilk Road home on Feb. 26. The Stylers, who had been renting the home while Pfister was away on vacation part of the fall and winter, were arrested on March 3. Carpenter, a local bank teller who had been helping Pfister to rent the property, was arrested March 14.
The Sheriff’s Office and prosecutors have been tight-lipped with regard to details surrounding the case and how each suspect allegedly was involved. Arrest-warrant information has been sealed by the court.