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Carroll: A tale of two murder cases

As I boarded the gondola Sunday, an attendant told me she’d be happy if The Aspen Times didn’t print another article about Nancy Pfister.

I heard what she was saying, loud and clear. There are only so many blood-dripping headlines that some readers can digest when it comes to stories about a sinister murder in our own town. The story later became as much about the key elements of the case being kept under seal than the actual killing, busting wide open the doors of speculation and conjecture. Murder theories ran rampant, most of them bunk.

On Friday, Judge Gail Nichols ordered the unsealing of the arrest-warrant affidavits for both William Styler and his wife, Nancy. The affidavit for the third suspect, Katherine Carpenter, remains under seal, but we’re told it’s a near replication of the Styler affidavits.

Carpenter’s attorneys have argued to keep her criminal records sealed, and should the hearing go as scheduled on Aug. 11, rest assured, it will get some ink in both of Aspen’s daily newspapers.

Pfister was murdered some time in late February, around the 24th of that month, authorities believe. The Styler couple was arrested March 3; Carpenter on March 14.

Ever since Pfister’s body was discovered at her West Buttermilk Road home on Feb. 26, the arrest affidavits were shielded from the media and the public. The affidavits remained sealed after the Stylers were arrested and stayed that way after Carpenter’s arrest. They were kept under wraps even after William Styler confessed to second-degree murder on June 20, while his wife was released two days earlier — as a condition of her husband’s plea — and Carpenter was let go on the day of his disposition.

Then, nearly five months after Pfister’s body was discovered in an unrecognizable state, the judge made the Styler affidavits public.

It was highly unusual for these arrest-warrant affidavits to remain under seal for that long — it’s one thing if the attorneys want them under wraps so they don’t prejudice a potential jury, and even that’s a stretch of an argument.

But to put this in its proper context, we only need to look at what happened in El Jebel, some 20 miles down the road from Aspen, on July 12. Two well-regarded, hard-working residents, Eliseo and Mayra Lopez, were gunned down in their home that night, allegedly by their live-in nephew, Williams Anderson Amaya.

Less than 24 hours after the El Jebel slayings, the suspect was arrested.

And on the Monday following the Saturday double-murder, the affidavit in support of Amaya’s arrest was opened to the public. Plain and simple, no legal wrangling necessary.

And that’s how it works in most of America.

You won’t see the Lopez victims’ names attached to such sexy descriptions as “socialite,” “well-heeled” or “Aspen blue-blood.” Such was the treatment Pfister received in the coverage of her death. And as for the suspect in the El Jebel murders, he doesn’t boast a background such as the Stylers’ — William was once an anesthesiologist on the Front Range, Nancy the founder of the Victorian Conservancy botanical gardens in Denver.

No, the two victims were just some normal folks from El Salvador making an honest living in America, while the alleged murderer had led a seemingly unremarkable life.

In the days and weeks after Pfister was killed, we received phone calls from media outlets around the country seeking photographs, comments, sources and interviews.

After the murder of the Lopez couple, there wasn’t a peep from the outside media.

There’s no doubting that the Pfister murder is a legitimate news story, and it has been ripe with ingredients for the tabloids and the local papers.

But the takeaway from the Pfister murder case is that it received more coddling, cover-up and news coverage because of the players involved, players of influence and clout.

That, however, doesn’t make the El Jebel murders any less important or significant — regardless of the Lopezes’ standing in the social hierarchy of the Roaring Fork Valley.

Rick Carroll is editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at rcarroll@aspentimes.com.


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