BRECKENRIDGE - Former Silverthorne resident Dale Bruner's eldest daughter was the first witness to testify for the prosecution in her father's trial for the murder of her mother.
The 10-year-old girl, whose name was sealed from court records, told the jury via closed-circuit video that she remembered hearing her parents arguing before she went into her mother's bedroom to ask for help with her homework the night her mother disappeared.
The prosecution said the girl was the last person, other than Dale Bruner himself, to see Stephanie Roller Bruner alive.
"She liked to dance," the girl said of her mother. "She was nice."
Dale Bruner, a photographer who has since moved to the Front Range, is charged with second-degree murder, first-degree assault and tampering with evidence in the November, 2010 killing of Stephanie Roller Bruner, a dance instructor and former county employee.
Prosecutors characterized the case as domestic violence in court Wednesday, telling the jury Roller Bruner's extramarital affair with a married neighbor and the couple's faltering financial situation had culminated in a fight that ended Roller Bruner's life.
"We're here because Stephanie Roller is dead," deputy district attorney Kristine Word told the jury in her opening statement. "We're here because of domestic violence. We're here because the defendant murdered her, and we'll ask you to find him guilty."
Defense attorney Robert Bernhardt fired back in his opening statements, claiming the Silverthorne police narrowed in on Dale Bruner as the prime suspect hardly 24 hours after Roller Bruner went missing and never looked at anyone else.
"This is a case about conjecture, and this is a case about speculation," Bernhardt said. "This is a case about, 'We don't really know what happened, but it couldn't be anyone else.'"
Word deconstructed the three days between Roller Bruner's disappearance and the discovery of her body in November 2010, painting a picture of a calm man who didn't appear to be worried about his missing wife. She also quoted Roller Bruner's own words recorded during a hearing a six weeks prior to her death, when she sought a restraining order against her husband.
"'He's threatened my life,'" Word quoted. "Stephanie Roller was leaving him, and he killed her because of it."
Stephanie Roller Bruner later withdrew her request for a restraining order, but she did file for a divorce three weeks before she was killed.
Bernhardt argued Dale Bruner didn't appear to be worried about his wife because the couple was having marital problems and she had left him repeatedly in the months prior to her death.
The records administrator for the Silverthorne Police Department who took Dale Bruner's call to report Stephanie Roller Bruner missing also testified for the prosecution Wednesday. She said Bruner was calm during the call.
A jury of three women and nine men was impaneled Wednesday after several days of jury selection.
Testimony will continue today.
Bruner reported Stephanie Roller Bruner missing from the couple's home in Silverthorne just before Thanksgiving, 2010, saying she went out for a walk the night before and never returned.
Search and rescue teams searched for three days as temperatures dipped below zero at night, before finally finding Roller Bruner's body in the Blue River near her house.
The cause of death was later ruled a combination of blunt force trauma, strangulation, hypothermia and drowning.
Bruner was identified soon after as the prime suspect.
Court records and family accounts paint a picture of a troubled marriage in the weeks leading up to Roller Bruner's death.
The couple reportedly fought after Roller Bruner was laid off from her job with the county government. She would later take out a restraining order against her husband and eventually filed for divorce on Nov. 1.
The couple's three children are now living with Roller Bruner's brother and his wife in California.