Defense attorneys representing the accused killers of Aspen resident Nancy Pfister said Monday they are seeking the phone records of Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, in relation to possible conversations he had with her.
After Pfister’s body was found in a closet in her West Buttermilk home and William F. Styler III, 65, and Nancy Christine Styler, 62, were arrested, DiSalvo acknowledged that he had been friends with Pfister and said he loved her like many did in the community.
Garth McCarty, who is a court-appointed attorney representing Nancy Styler, told Judge Gail Nichols of Pitkin County District Court that he was filing three motions for discovery, or pretrial evidence.
One of the motions is for the records of DiSalvo’s “own [communication] devices regarding Pfister before her death,” he said.
The Stylers made their second appearance in court on Monday since their arrest in Basalt on March 3. They and Katherine Carpenter, 56, are accused of murdering Pfister, whose body was found on Feb. 26.
The Stylers on Monday were formally charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Public defender Tina Fang and Beth Krulewitch, another court-appointed attorney representing Nancy Styler, waived advisement on the charges. Carpenter faces the same counts.
Fang, who heads the local public defender’s office and is representing William Styler, told Nichols that statements DiSalvo made after the Stylers’ arrest have prejudiced the jury pool. A motion to change the venue of the proceedings is likely, Krulewitch said after the hearing.
DiSalvo then canceled a press conference that was to be held Monday afternoon after the advisement hearing for Carpenter.
“As previously stated, preserving the integrity of this case for successful prosecution is paramount to this office,” a sheriff’s office press release says. “Therefore, there will be no further information released regarding this arrest.”
DiSalvo and his investigators have not released any details about how or why Pfister was killed, nor where and when she was killed, and Nichols sealed the arrest and search warrants after prosecutors filed a motion requesting the move.
Regardless, the press coverage of the case is now worldwide, Fang said in court. She wanted Nichols to order DiSalvo and other law enforcement officials to abide by legal guidelines called the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct.
Fang cited DiSalvo’s comments at the March 3 press conference he held after the Stylers were arrested.
“He became very emotional,” she said. “He talked about the emotional toll of working 24/7 on this case. He actually cried or at least appeared to get teary-eyed during that press conference. That has been reported ... over and over and over again.”
DiSalvo also thanked his staff for what he called a “successful investigation and arrest” and said that his job, “for the most part, is pretty much done.”
“Both of those things lead to inferences, judge,” Fang said. “They cause an inference in the reader to suggest that the job is done because he got the right people.”
She introduced three newspaper articles that she said supported her attempt to limit publicity about the case. One is a March 6 Aspen Daily News article that quoted Gerry Goldstein, a part-time Aspen resident and a prominent defense attorney.
He told the paper that “there is a marvelous law enforcement community in Aspen that came to a very studied and methodical conclusion. I have ultimate faith in Aspen’s justice system.”
There was either “a violation of this court’s sealing order and Gerry Goldstein had [access] to information that no one else has on the defense team, or he doesn’t have that information and he’s making comments ... without the actual information related to the discovery,” Fang said. “Those are reckless comments, judge, and he needs to stop making them.”
Nichols interrupted her, saying she did not have any power over Goldstein.
“Yes, you do, your honor,” Fang said.
The Pfister family has retained Goldstein to handle matters around the home, which is a crime scene, she said. As such, Nichols has purview over him because he’s participating in the case, Fang said.
Her motion asked for, essentially, an expansion of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct to govern what the defense team, prosecutors and Goldstein can say about the case. Without that, Fang said she fears the Stylers will not have a fair and impartial jury.
Krulewitch agreed, saying “there is a serious danger that there has been leaking of information that obviously could get into the press.”
She said she received a call from a Denver attorney who had heard something concerning the murder weapon at a cocktail party “that only could have come from the arrest warrant and affidavit.”
Goldstein said Monday evening that he has “spent the past 46 years looking out for defendants’ rights” and that he didn’t want to say anything more to avoid jeopardizing the suspects’ rights to a fair trial.
“I’m sensitive to her concerns,” Goldstein said of Fang.
Prosecutor Andrea Bryan argued that the defense was trying to make the DA’s office “responsible for the entire city of Aspen,” and Nichols shouldn’t expand the rules of professional conduct.
Bryan said prosecutors “cannot, and are not required to, control what unrelated third parties say about this case to the press.”
Nichols said she realized that “all sorts of stories are going around town” but denied Fang’s motion.
“Sheriff DiSalvo’s personal expression of grief is not a violation of anything,” Nichols said, adding that nothing has been published in Aspen’s newspapers that violate the rules of professional conduct.
Goldstein’s saying that the sheriff’s office did a good job “doesn’t mean the sheriff has disclosed anything” to him, Nichols said.
Other observations from Monday’s court proceedings:
• Sitting in a wheelchair with leg- and handcuffs, William Styler at one point turned around and smiled at two women sitting in the gallery’s front row for several seconds. One woman blew him a kiss. Afterward, she declined comment except to say that articles about the case have been wrong. She wouldn’t elaborate and quickly walked away.
• Nancy Styler is now being held without bond in the Eagle County Detention Center, according to Krulewitch. There are concerns about her emotional and physical well-being, she told Nichols.
“It’s critical that bond is addressed as soon as possible,” Krulewitch said.
That is expected to happen today.
• Both sides have requested a preliminary hearing in which Nichols will decide whether there is enough evidence to bind the defendants over for trial. Fang also wants what is called a “proof evident presumption great” hearing in which prosecutors will have to spell out the strength of their case. In murder cases, bond may be denied where “proof is evident or presumption is great,” according to the state constitution.
• Fang filed a motion that addressed vehicles that were taken into custody by sheriff’s investigators. Before they were arrested, the Stylers’ Jaguar was towed away from the Basalt lodge they were staying in after they moved out of Pfister’s home on Feb. 22. They had been renting the home since November while Pfister was on an extended stay in Australia.
Authorities also seized Carpenter’s 2008 Subaru, and the defense wants to inspect the vehicles.
“How much time has passed now since they were arrested?” Fang said. “Every day, and every tick of that clock, exculpatory evidence could be negligently handled, accidentally destroyed or purposely destroyed. Our goal here is to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Fang’s motion was granted. The defense team also is allowed to inspect and photograph Pfister’s home, with the conditions that the home’s owner, which according to records is a family trust, gives permission and that prosecutors or their representative also be present.
District Attorney Sherry Caloia and Scott Turner, assistant district attorney, were seen outside Pfister’s home on Monday afternoon.