Pfister homicide case: Severed cases for Styler couple and Carpenter?
Ryan Summerlin April 25, 2014
Defense wants case under wraps
Defense attorneys at a Wednesday court hearing accused the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office of leaking information from the sealed homicide case of Nancy Pfister to the media. Public defender Tina Fang and court-appointed lawyer Garth McCarty didn’t specify the information that had made its way to the media, but they noted that the purported leaks have the potential to taint a jury pool.
Fang represents defendant William Styler III; McCarty is counsel for Styler’s wife, Nancy. The third suspect is Aspen resident Katherine Carpenter.
The defense also is contesting the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office’s motion to unseal the court file. Judge Gail Nichols gave the defense until May 14 to file motions related to whether the issue should be argued in a court hearing or through written court briefs. Fang said the matter should be debated in a closed court hearing.
On April 15, a conglomeration of media outlets — which includes The Aspen Times, Aspen Daily News, CBS, Gannett Co., National Public Radio, E.W. Scripps Co. and various network-news affiliates — filed a joinder to the District Attorney’s Office’s motion to unseal the case. The defense’s chief opposition is for the release of the affidavit in support of the arrest warrants, which contains details about the nature of the killing and the probable cause authorities needed to take the three suspects into custody.
Prosecutor Scott Turner said that because the three suspects are in custody, the case should be unsealed. Likewise, Nichols said, “To the extent I’ve looked at the law, it favors unsealing.”
Nichols said that she is leaning toward having the issue argued on paper, something Fang said would “hamstring” the defense. Likewise, Fang said an open hearing would stymie the defense’s ability to candidly argue about particular information contained in the arrest-warrant affidavit that’s sealed from the public.
“The damage would be already be done at this point,” Fang said. “You can’t unring the bell.”
Fang also said that the media has had plenty of access to the case.
“They’ve been denied nothing,” she said. “They’ve been to every court hearing. They’ve been taking photos.”
For the first time in the case, Nichols released documents from the court file: the charging documents and the arrest warrants.
“It’s pretty black and white that I have no right to keep those sealed,” Nichols said. The defense did not contest the release of the documents.
— Rick Carroll
A judge has given defense attorneys until May 16 to file severance motions on behalf of the three defendants charged in the slaying of Aspen native Nancy Pfister.
At a hearing Wednesday in Pitkin County District Court, defense attorneys revealed their aims to lobby the court to sever the case against Front Range couple Nancy and William Styler III from the third defendant, longtime Alpine Bank employee Katherine Carpenter, who is also an Aspen resident.
“We might request a severance,” said Public Defender Tina Fang, one of two attorneys for William Styler, who once practiced anesthesiology in the Denver area.
“It’s obvious to me that we are going to have highly antagonistic defenses with Carpenter.”
Fang did not elaborate, but attorneys for Nancy Styler and Carpenter concurred that severance motions likely would be filed.
“I echo the concerns of Fang and (Garth) McCarty (Nancy Styler’s counsel) about severance,” said Greg Greer, one of Carpenter’s two defense attorneys.
Should Pitkin County District Court Judge Gail Nichols rule in favor of the severance motions, the preliminary hearing, which was set Wednesday for June 9 to 13, would be split into two parts: one for Carpenter, the other for the Stylers. Preliminary hearings are conducted to determine whether prosecutors have cause to move a case forward. In those hearings, a judge weighs the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution.
Suspects kept separate in courtroom
All three suspects are in custody, without bond, at separate jail facilities in the area.
Sheriff’s deputies separately escorted the defendants into the near-full courtroom through the rear clerk’s entrance on Wednesday. Similar to previous hearings, William Styler was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair. As standard operating procedure, the three defendants were shackled at the ankles and wrists.
Other than confiding with their attorneys, the trio sat silently during the hearing, which lasted nearly two hours. They were kept separate as Carpenter, 56, sat in the back row of the jury box with her attorneys, while William Styler, 66, was positioned at the defendant’s table behind Nancy Styler, 62. On a few instances, the wife offered expressionless glances at her husband.
Each suspect faces counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Charging documents, which Nichols released Wednesday, say the murders happened “on or between” Feb. 24 and Feb. 26.
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 arrest warrant affidavit in the case remains under seal, and authorities have not provided public statements about Carpenter’s relationship with the Stylers.
However, status updates on Pfister’s Facebook page suggested that the Stylers had rented Pfister’s West Buttermilk home since late November.
In a post on her Facebook page dated Feb. 6, Pfister, who was in Australia at the time, said that she was seeking a tenant for her home and that “Kathy carpenter (sic) from alpine Bank will show anyone interested the ropes, watering greenhouse, Gabe’s stuff,etc. Very easy to contact me via email, thanks in advance!!!”
Three days earlier, on Feb. 3, Pfister said on her Facebook page that her West Buttermilk home would be available for rent “around” Feb. 22. Pfister said her current tenants — the Styler couple — are “not paying rent and they haven’t paid utilities.”
At approximately 8:14 p.m. on Feb. 26, Pfister’s body was discovered inside a closet at her West Buttermilk Road home. On April 16, the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office issued a statement saying that she died of blunt force trauma to the head, and her body was not discovered until approximately 36 hours after her death. She was 57.