Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said Monday that he stands behind his department’s arrests in the murder of Nancy Pfister, even though two of the three suspects essentially have been cleared of the charges.
“I think there was sufficient probable cause to make these arrests,” DiSalvo said.
The sheriff’s comments came after Pitkin County District Judge Gail Nichols on Friday ordered the release of the arrest-warrant affidavits for Front Range residents William and Nancy Styler, who initially were charged with first-degree murder and other charges related to the death of Pfister, 57, a native Aspenite.
William Styler, 66, pleaded guilty on June 20 to second-degree murder. As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to drop charges against Nancy Styler, 62, and close the investigation into her potential involvement. The third suspect, Kathy Carpenter, 56, who now lives in Carbondale, also was cleared of any culpability in the murder.
In hindsight, DiSalvo said he was confident that William Styler acted alone in Pfister’s death, which came as the result of her being hammered on the head while she was sleeping at her West Buttermilk residence.
“I don’t believe now, after (William Styler’s) confession, that (Nancy Styler) was there (when the murder happened),” DiSalvo said. “I do believe she knew after the fact.”
The sheriff said that when the couple were staying at the Aspenalt Lodge in Basalt, after Pfister’s body was found on Feb. 26, police cars maintained a steady presence outside of their unit. A search warrant was executed on their unit, as well.
“When you’re sitting in a 200-square-foot hotel room and you’ve had everything removed, I find it hard to believe, I find it impossible, that (Nancy Styler) didn’t know,” he said.
In the affidavit, Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office investigator Brad Gibson suggested that it would have been “extremely difficult” for one person to drag Pfister’s body across the floor; move, bind and package it; and then place it into the walk-in closet.
That theory seemed plausible at the time, DiSalvo said.
“I have to think now that if there were two people, they would have done everything they could have to get the body out,” he said. “This is hindsight, of course.”
DiSalvo noted that the legal threshold of finding probable cause to arrest someone is significantly lower than the burden of proof required to convict someone in a court of law.
He said his department has not reached out to Carpenter, a longtime employee of Alpine Bank who lived in Aspen at the time of her March 14 arrest. Carpenter was in custody for 96 days until her June 20 release.
“If you are maliciously arrested, that would be a case for an apology,” DiSalvo said. “I can say that in this case, the probable cause went through two levels of judicial review — the district attorney and then the district court judge.
“If this had been a warrantless arrest where we yanked her off the street and it turned out to be a bad arrest, I’d be the first to apologize. But that wasn’t the case.”
One of Carpenter’s defense attorneys, however, said that the Sheriff’s Office theory that Carpenter stole $6,000 from Pfister’s safe-deposit box, which was stored at Alpine Bank, lacked substance.
Gibson reported in the affidavit that within 24 hours of seeing Pfister’s body, Carpenter took $6,000 in cash and jewelry from Pfister’s safe-deposit box and used the money to pay for her son’s plane ticket back home, along with some of the funds going to his college tuition. Authorities say Carpenter had tried to cover it up, and after she was set free from the Pitkin County Jail, prosecutors said they were considering charging her with theft. Last week, District Attorney Sherry Caloia said the theft charge was no longer being considered.
“The implication in (The Aspen Times article) and (in the affidavit prepared by Brad Gibson) is that Kathy Carpenter used her position as an employee of Alpine Bank to gain access to Nancy Pfister’s safety deposit box, took money and jewelry from the box the day after she discovered Nancy’s body and used Nancy’s money to buy a plane ticket for her son and to pay for his tuition,” Lord said. “This is just not true.
“Kathy and Nancy were each fully authorized to access each other’s safety deposit boxes. So, it was not Kathy’s position as an employee of the bank that allowed her access to Nancy’s safety deposit box, it was Nancy Pfister’s written authorization. When Kathy would go to Nancy’s safety deposit box, she would sign in and out like any other individual lawfully accessing a safety deposit box. Kathy took the rings so that they would be sure to go Juliana Pfister. She did this because she knew that was Nancy’s desire should anything happen to her. Kathy never took a penny of Nancy’s money for her personal use and she did not use any of the money in Nancy’s safety deposit box to buy a plane ticket or to pay for her son’s tuition.”
Regardless, DiSalvo said that the Carpenter’s actions raised suspicions.
“Why couldn’t she have just given the money to Juliana?” he said.
“Kathy never took a penny of Nancy’s money for her personal use.”
Attorney for Katherine Carpenter