William F. Styler admitted in Pitkin County District Court on Friday morning that he killed Aspen native Nancy Pfister. He received a 20-year prison sentence through a plea agreement with the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
Styler, 66, a former Denver anesthesiologist, admitted to authorities on June 12 that he acted alone in the murder, District Attorney Sherry Caloia said after Friday’s court hearing. Styler used a hammer to strike Pfister’s head while she was sleeping on the night of Feb. 24, Assistant District Attorney Scott Turner said in court.
Pfister’s relatives asked Chief District Judge James Boyd to impose the maximum sentence of 32 years for the second-degree murder/heat of passion charge to which Styler pleaded guilty. Styler had previously faced first-degree murder charges.
But Boyd went along with prosecutors’ recommendation of 20 years in a Department of Corrections prison with medical facilities. Styler has attended every court hearing since his March 3 arrest in a wheelchair for an unspecified health condition.
First-degree murder charges against his wife, Nancy Styler, 62, and former Aspen bank teller Katherine Carpenter, 56, have been dismissed. Nancy Styler was arrested on the same day as her husband, while Carpenter was arrested March 14.
The Stylers’ connection to Pfister: They had rented her home while she was out of the country on vacation for a few months. Carpenter was said to be a longtime friend and personal assistant who collected rent money from tenants. All three suspects had been held in custody in separate jails, without bond, since their arrests. Nancy Styler was set free on Tuesday while Carpenter was released Friday following a brief court appearance.
Defense attorneys for the Stylers and Carpenter told reporters outside the courthouse that the evidence was highly circumstantial and characterized the prosecutors’ cases against Nancy Styler and Katherine Carpenter as extremely weak. Caloia said the evidence against William Styler was strong.
“We do believe that this is a good and just resolution to these cases and hope that Nancy Pfister’s family can find peace in knowing what happened, knowing that Nancy Pfister’s killer is in prison, and avoiding potentially years of litigation for which the result is always uncertain,” a statement from Caloia’s office reads.
Due to William Styler’s age and medical condition, “we believe this will be a life sentence for him,” the statement adds.
Caloia also addressed the dropping of charges against Nancy Styler and Katherine Carpenter in her statement. Nancy Styler’s charges were dismissed with prejudice, meaning they cannot be brought back into play. However, Katherine Carpenter’s charges were dismissed without prejudice. Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said an investigation into Carpenter’s possible role in the homicide remains open indefinitely.
“In light of (William Styler’s) confession and statement that he alone was responsible for the death and subsequent hiding of the body, we dismissed the case against his wife Nancy Styler,” Caloia’s statement says. “With this new evidence, it became clear that we would not be able to establish that Mrs. Styler played any role in the death of Nancy Pfister.
“After careful review of the evidence against Ms. Carpenter and in light of the statements of William Styler, we realized that the evidence we have to prove her involvement is also inadequate to proceed to trial. Therefore, we dismissed the charges against Katherine Carpenter today,” the statement continues.
After a trip to Australia, Pfister returned in late February to her West Buttermilk Road mountainside home the Stylers had rented. Authorities found her body — wrapped in sheets, according to Caloia — in a closet at the house on Feb. 26. She was 57 at the time of her death.
On a Facebook post, Pfister had complained that the Stylers had not been paying rent. Public defender Tina Fang, who represents William Styler, said that reports alleging the Stylers had not paid Pfister are untrue.
But Caloia said that William Styler and Nancy Pfister had been arguing in the days prior to the murder, and suggested that his motive may have involved financial reasons.
“William Styler and Nancy Pfister were involved in a dispute about the rental of Nancy Pfister’s home and monies that she thought the Stylers owed her,” Caloia’s statement says.
Law-enforcement affidavits in support of the March arrest warrants remained under seal as of Friday afternoon. District Judge Gail Nichols had previously ruled that the affidavits would be unsealed following a preliminary hearing set to start next week. Because of the new developments, the proceeding has been canceled.
For more on the story, read Saturday’s Aspen Times.