Defense makes case for sealing Pfister file
May 30, 2014
Arguing that an arrest-warrant affidavit contains numerous misleading statements made by law enforcement, an attorney for one of the suspects charged in the killing of Aspen native Nancy Pfister has claimed that unsealing the case would "expose enough details to prejudice the public, yet not enough of the facts to uncover the truth."
Glenwood Springs attorney Garth McCarty's argument to keep the case sealed is spelled out in court documents filed April 22 in Pitkin County District Court. McCarty is one of two attorneys defending Front Range resident Nancy Styler, 62, who faces charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. The other defendants are Styler's husband, William, 66, and Katherine Carpenter, 56, of Aspen.
"Unsealing the file in this case would profoundly contaminate the jury pool," said McCarty's objection. "The affidavits in support of arrest warrants, for instance, contain overstated, misleading and occasionally untruthful assertions of 'fact.'"
The three suspects' attorneys have argued in previous court hearings that the case should be kept under wraps to prevent the contamination of a jury pool. Judge Gail Nichols, who is presiding over the case, has given the defense until May 14 to file written arguments related to keeping the case sealed.
The 9th Judicial District Attorney's Office has filed a notice to unseal the case on the basis that all of the suspects are in custody and the investigation is nearly complete. The District Attorney's Office has been joined by a group of media outlets contending the case should be opened to the public.
"We feel that the court should now decide," District Attorney Sherry Caloia said Tuesday. "And we believe the public has a right to know."
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Although the case is sealed, on Tuesday Denver attorney Steven Zansberg provided McCarty's response and objection to the media outlets — including The Aspen Times — that he's representing in the legal fight to release the files. McCarty's response currently is unavailable to the public.
McCarty contends that if the media were to report on the contents of the arrest-warrant affidavit, it would miss key details in the case. Among those are:
• "The affidavit misleads a reader into believing there were outstanding debts between Pfister and the Stylers, while omitted evidence illustrates otherwise."
• "The suspicion articulated against Ms. Styler in the affidavit supporting her arrest is largely dependent upon the self-serving statements of a person (Carpenter) who was herself charged with the same offense two weeks after the affidavit was completed."
• "The affidavit also takes several of Ms. Styler's statements out of context, exploits the statements in misleading ways, and makes no mention of the many hours of interrogation to which the Stylers were subjected (and the hours of clarifying and exculpatory statements they made during those interrogations)."
McCarty also questioned the District Attorney's Office's decision to file a notice seeking the unsealing of the court file, while it originally asked that it be sealed to preserve the integrity of the jury pool. "Now that the State no longer considers its own investigation in need of protection, it makes no mention of its original concern than the defendants would be unable to obtain a fair trial with an impartial jury," he wrote. "Either the perceived threat of jury pool contamination has somehow been eliminated, or the State's original reasoning in support of sealing the file was disingenuous."
Caloia said that argument is off base.
"Mr. McCarty will malign the prosecution for taking a drink of water," she said. "We filed a notice for it to no longer be sealed and the court has to review that."
At approximately 8:14 p.m. on Feb. 26, Carpenter contacted authorities to report that Pfister's body was inside a closet at her West Buttermilk Road home. Charging documents say the murders happened "on or between" Feb. 24 and Feb. 26.
On April 16, the Pitkin County Coroner's Office issued a statement saying that Pfister died of blunt-force trauma to the head, and her body was not discovered until approximately 36 hours after her death. She was 57.
Pitkin County Sheriff's deputies arrested the Styler couple at the Aspenalt Lodge in Basalt on March 3; Carpenter was arrested at her Aspen home on March 14.
The Styler couple had rented Pfister's West Buttermilk home since late November. Carpenter was a personal assistant of Pfister's who handled rentals for her home.
The three suspects are being held in separate jail facilities without bond. They are due back in court for a preliminary hearing for June 9 to 13. However, defense attorneys, at an April 23 hearing, said they are considering filing motions to sever the cases.
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