Aspen judge delays hearing in Nancy Pfister homicide case
June 7, 2014
During a court proceeding Wednesday, no new information regarding the case against three people accused of first-degree murder in the death of Aspen native Nancy Pfister came to light.
Pitkin County District Judge Gail Nichols ruled favorably on prosecutor Andrea Bryan's motion to postpone a preliminary hearing that had been scheduled to start Monday. The hearing — in which prosecutors and defense lawyers will present information and testimony to help Nichols decide if the case should move forward — now is set for June 25, 27 and 30 and July 2.
Nearly 25 minutes of the one-hour hearing was spent for the purpose of discussing schedules so that all of the attorneys could agree on the new dates.
Bryan said she needed at least a one-week delay because a key witness, a District Attorney's Office investigator, is unavailable the week of June 9. She also said a portion of the investigation remains incomplete and cited the large volume of information in the case. A short delay would help to make the hearing more efficient, she said.
To start Monday "makes no practical sense," Bryan said.
Attorney Greg Greer, who represents former Aspen bank teller Kathy Carpenter in the case, vehemently objected, saying he was ready to proceed next week. But attorneys for accused Front Range couple William and Nancy Styler — respectively, Tina Fang and Garth McCarty — voiced their support for a continuance of less than 30 days, also because of the large amount of information they still need to review.
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Greer's request that the court hold a preliminary hearing separate from the Stylers' preliminary hearing also was shot down by the judge.
During the scheduling discussion, Greer pointed out that Carpenter has been in custody for more than 80 days with no bond set in the case. He suggested that a fair bond amount cannot be set until the judge hears his witnesses.
Carpenter was arrested by Pitkin County Sheriff's Office deputies at her Aspen employee-housing unit on March 14; the Stylers, who also are being held without bond, were arrested March 3 at the Aspenalt Lodge in Basalt. The Stylers are former tenants of Pfister's hillside residence off West Buttermilk Road.
Carpenter is said to have been a longtime friend of Pfister's and helped to rent out her home when Pfister vacationed. Pfister's body was found in a closet in the house on Feb. 26. She died of blunt-force trauma to the head, and her body was not discovered for about 36 hours after her death, the Pitkin County Coroner's Office said in April.
Greer said Carpenter deserves her "day in court."
"It's such a tired old phrase, but it's real, and it's real in this case," he argued to the judge. "She worked at the same job at Alpine Bank for 20 years. She used to live right down the street and walk right past this courthouse every day. And now, she's unemployed and homeless based on the (arrest warrants) you signed. Don't you want to see if there's really probable cause in those papers and give her that day?"
Nichols said she understands the serious concerns about postponing a preliminary hearing and keeping people in custody without bond, but she added that Bryan showed "good cause" for the short delay. She said the prosecutor's argument for a more efficient hearing and the fact that all three defendants were charged together were more compelling reasons for a continuance than the investigator's inability to appear next week.
Near the end of the proceeding, Nichols announced that she is still working on her written ruling on the defense attorney's request to unseal records pertaining to the investigation itself. Affidavits with information in support of the arrests have not been made available to the media for dissemination to the public. Through a Denver attorney, The Aspen Times, the Aspen Daily News and seven other media groups have joined the prosecutor's motion.
"I've been working on it off and on forever," the judge said. "Court reporters keep coming in and (asking about it), and I keep saying, 'I'm working on it, and it'll be done in a few days.' And of course it never is."
In addition to the first-degree-murder charges, the Stylers and Carpenter also have been charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and accessory to murder.