Defense lawyers for Stylers cite lack of information in Pfister case
Ryan Summerlin March 17, 2014
Prosecutors formally filed first-degree murder charges Monday against William F. Styler III and Nancy C. Styler in connection with the death of Aspen native Nancy Pfister.
During an hour-long morning proceeding in Pitkin County District Court, attorneys representing the Stylers — former tenants of Pfister’s hillside residence off West Buttermilk Road — conveyed to Judge Gail Nichols their frustrations in trying to obtain information to assist their clients. The defense attorneys have filed 12 motions, some of which Nichols addressed but most of which will be taken up during another hearing on Tuesday morning.
William Styler was represented by Tina Fang, chief trial lawyer of the Glenwood Springs office of the public defender, along with deputy public defender Sara Steele. Nancy Styler’s counsel consisted of Garth McCarty, of Glenwood Springs, and Beth Krulewitch, of Aspen.
Sitting at the prosecution’s table Monday morning were deputy district attorneys Andrea Bryan, of the Aspen office, and Scott Turner, who works out of Glenwood Springs.
William Styler, 65, and Nancy Styler, 62, both were arrested by sheriff’s deputies on March 3 at the Aspenalt Lodge in Basalt. They are being held without bond, William in Pitkin County and Nancy in Eagle County.
Authorities have said that on the evening of Feb. 26, a local Alpine Bank employee, Katherine M. Carpenter, 56, discovered Pfister’s body inside a closet at her home and called 911. On Friday, Carpenter was arrested at her employee-housing unit at the Christiana Lodge, located off Main Street in Aspen. She currently is in the custody of the Pitkin County Jail.
Like the Stylers, Carpenter faces first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder charges. Pfister, who was 57, hired Carpenter over the years to help rent her home whenever she went on extended vacations. Earlier this year, Pfister traveled to Australia, but complained on her Facebook page that the Stylers had not been paying rent.
While the Stylers first appeared in court on March 4, the day after they were arrested, Carpenter’s first appearance in court was Monday afternoon. She was represented by Glenwood Springs attorney Greg Greer, who said his involvement might be temporary since Carpenter has yet to qualify for a court-appointed defender.
As she previously did with the Stylers, Nichols signed a protection order that forbids Carpenter from having any type of contact with three members of the Pfister family — Nancy’s two sisters, Christina and Suzanne, and her daughter, Juliana.
Carpenter’s next court appearance was set for March 26 when formal charges are expected to be filed. Handcuffed, she had her eyes closed while sitting in the jury box and waiting for Nichols to start the hearing.
The defense attorneys for the Stylers have requested a preliminary hearing to determine whether their clients should be brought to trial. However, they waived the defendant’s right to have the hearing held within 35 days. Fang pointed out the lack of information being provided by prosecutors. She said her office has received no discovery in the case.
“We have no idea how many witnesses we would need to call,” Fang said.
The defense attorneys also addressed what they called a lack of access to two vehicles that have been seized by investigators — Carpenter’s Subaru and the Stylers’ Jaguar — as well as the crime scene at Pfister’s house. They repeatedly brought up the possibility that evidence could be tested and destroyed, preventing them from pursuing their own investigation.
Nichols said the defense attorney investigators could have access to the house as long as certain conditions are met. The homeowner must consent — Pfister’s residence is held by a family trust — and representatives of the District Attorney’s Office must agree to the time and date. Bryan said her office already has agreed to a time and date to allow defense investigators inside Pfister’s home.
Krulewitch wanted the judge to set bond for Nancy Styler, but Nichols said that in keeping with capital-murder cases, any motion for bond needed to be presented in writing. She said she would deal with bond during Tuesday morning’s hearing on the various defense motions.
Nancy Styler is being jailed in Eagle County and has medical issues that remain unaddressed, Krulewitch said. William Styler was escorted from the Pitkin County Jail to the second-floor courtroom in a wheelchair for reasons that have not been made public.
Krulewitch said the lack of discovery means that the defense is losing crucial time necessary to identify alternate suspects. At one point during the hearing, McCarty suggested that his client, Nancy Styler, was innocent, saying the “wrongly accused person [is] sitting in jail.”
Steele asked that defense experts be allowed a presence of any scientific testing of potential evidence before it is “destroyed or consumed.”
“A defense expert needs to be present,” Steele said. “We can assume there is physical evidence that will be tested.”
But Nichols replied that there is no legal precedent for allowing defense experts to be present during such tests. She also said that at this point, she did not know if any evidence would be “destroyed or consumed.”
The issue of pre-trial publicity also came up at the hearing. Fang alleged that the case already has been tried in the media, and pointed to newspaper articles that quoted Sheriff Joe DiSalvo and local attorney Gerry Goldstein, who is representing the Pfister family. Fang said DiSalvo and Goldstein should follow the same ethics rules by which attorneys for the defense and prosecution are bound in order to ensure fairness for the Stylers.
“This is a very small community,” Fang said. “These folks have already been tried and convicted in the press.”
Bryan said that prosecutors cannot control what “unrelated third parties” might say to the media. Nichols denied the motion asking that DiSalvo and Goldstein be bound by Colorado’s Rules of Professional Conduct.