Defense attorneys at a Tuesday 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. 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, Judge Gail Nichols said, “To the extent I’ve looked at the law, it favors unsealing.”
Nichols said 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 un-ring 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.