Judge: Defense can see court files in Pfister homicide case
Ryan Summerlin March 20, 2014
During a Tuesday morning hearing involving the Nancy Pfister murder case, Pitkin County District Judge Gail Nichols said she has signed an order releasing the court files pertaining to William Styler III and Nancy Styler to their respective defense attorneys.
Those files include search- and arrest-warrant information that has been sealed by court order since the investigation began on Feb. 26, when Pfister’s body was discovered inside a closet at her West Buttermilk Road home. Members of media organizations informally have sought the same information over the past few weeks, but to no avail because of the court seal.
Nichols said defense attorneys for the Stylers “may not disseminate” the information, which includes “basically everything” the District Attorney’s Office has placed in the files so far.
The Stylers, former residents of Castle Rock, have been charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in connection with Pfister’s death. The Stylers, former tenants of Pfister’s home, were arrested on March 3.
An Aspen woman and longtime local bank teller, Katherine Carpenter, faces the same charges. Carpenter apparently had a role in renting out Pfister’s home, according to Pfister’s February postings on Facebook.
The Stylers are due back in court on April 2, while Carpenter’s next court date has been set for March 26.
The Tuesday morning hearing was scheduled to address several motions filed by the defense attorneys, most of which Nichols denied. Tina Fang, chief trial lawyer of the Glenwood Springs Office of the Public Defender, is representing William Styler, along with deputy public defender Sara Steele. Nancy Styler’s counsel consists of Beth Krulewitch, of Aspen, and Garth McCarty, of Glenwood Springs.
Attorneys representing Carpenter were not present in court on Tuesday.
Nichols said she could not address every motion, which also are under seal and unavailable for media review. She said some of the motions are premature and very broad, and noted that pleas have yet to be entered in the case.
One motion, in which the defense attorneys or their experts sought to be present for any scientific testing of evidence, was denied already at a Monday hearing. Nichols rolled through a list of motions that have been denied or granted, but in most instances did not describe the nature of them.
Fang said she objected to the terse way in which the court was dealing with the motions, suggesting that she wanted to discuss them more fully. Fang pointed out that three hours were set aside for Tuesday’s hearing, but Nichols told her she had other important matters with which to deal.
Fang brought up the issue of a change in procedures at the Pitkin County Jail, where William Styler is being held without bond. Nancy Styler is being housed in the Eagle County Jail, also without bond.
The Pitkin County Jail, Fang said, is requiring her to present her ID and a log entry is made whenever she goes there to confer with her client.
“They’ve never done that before,” she said. “Should these people be treated differently?”
Also, she said, the visits can be monitored by video surveillance. Fang said she worries that deputies could be privy to verbal and nonverbal communications.
“The visitation log goes to the heart of attorney-client privilege,” she said.
Krulewitch brought up the same issue, pointing out that the jail will have a record of any defense experts that are brought for consultations with William Styler.
“If they have access, we need access to their strategy,” Fang said.
But Glenwood Springs prosecutor Scott Turner, who is working with Aspen prosecutor Andrea Bryan on the case, said the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office has the legal right to run its facility as it sees fit.
“Someone going in or out of the jail is not protected by attorney-client privilege,” Turner said.
He said the law allows the prosecutors the right to such records, but added that such records have yet to be sought and that the motion regarding jail records was premature.
Nichols denied the motion from the defense attorneys regarding jail-visitation and jail-incident logs, but said any jail medical records would be protected from release to the prosecution.
Krulewitch brought up the issue of bond for Nancy Styler, but Nichols again noted that any request for bond in a capital-murder case had to be presented in writing. Krulewitch, as McCarty did on Monday, alleged that the prosecutors and law-enforcement personnel are wasting time by focusing on her client.
“The evidence in this case with regard to my client is razor-thin,” she said. “My concern is that law enforcement may be ignoring other avenues.”
The defense attorneys for the Stylers again, as on Monday, pressed the issue of obtaining discovery, or information about evidence, from the prosecutors. Nichols said discovery will be provided, but slowly.
Bryan, reached for comment on Tuesday afternoon, said under Colorado law, obligations for providing discovery begin with the formal filing of charges, which occurred on Monday.
“We are providing all of that discovery to them,” Bryan said, “as well as everything that’s in the court file, which will really be duplicative of a lot of what’s in discovery anyhow. Getting it through the court file will be quicker for them right now because we have a strict procedure for how we organize our discovery, make sure we keep track of it, get it to them and have them sign for it.”
Nichols denied a motion to allow Nancy Styler to wear civilian clothing at court hearings. She said regular attire at a trial, should that commence, would be appropriate.
Fang asked that the court order investigators or the District Attorney’s Office to notify defense attorneys of any requests for hair or fluid samples from the Stylers. Otherwise, she said, “decisions are being made in some dark star chamber.”
Nichols said the law doesn’t require any such notice, but noted Fang and Krulewitch’s objections.