After the verdict: Jurors look back on murder trial of Dale Bruner
August 6, 2012
For eight long days, the jurors who would eventually deliver a guilty verdict in the murder trial of Dale Bruner played by the rules.
They avoided media reports about the case.
They didn’t talk to anyone, even each other, about the emotional testimony they were hearing in court.
And they kept their minds open.
But in the jury deliberation room, their reasonable doubts couldn’t survive the “mountain” of evidence stacked up against the former Silverthorne photographer accused of killing his wife in 2010.
“When it came to deliberation, I think all of us as jurors went into it wanting to give Dale the benefit of the doubt,” said Kevin Shafer, who was one of the 12.
“It came to the point where we were grasping at straws, thinking how can there be reasonable doubt, and there was nothing at all,” juror Brent Love said. “I was trying to throw out hypotheticals, but it’s like we’re getting to the point of aliens from space. This is not reasonable at all.”
The jury of 10 men and two women deliberated for only a few hours before convicting Bruner of tampering with evidence, first-degree assault and second-degree murder in the killing of his wife, Stephanie Roller Bruner.
Bruner reported his wife missing in November, 2010, saying she’d gone out for a walk in a snowstorm the night before and never came home. Her body was found three days later in the Blue River.
Three of the 12 jurors who convicted him sat down with the Summit Daily last week to speak publicly for the first time about the trial that drew state and national media attention.
The jurors said they were aware of the weight of their decision from Day 1 of the trial.
Bruner, who is set for sentencing in September, now faces decades in prison.
But juror Angela Hart said she also tried to see the case through the eyes of the victim, a feat that was easier as prosecutors brought her final days to life by taking the jury to the place where Roller Bruner’s body was found and playing a recording of her voice saying her husband had threatened to kill her.
“I felt like she was right there with us,” Hart said. “I felt like we were giving her a voice, finally.”
The jury delivered their guilty verdicts, convicting Bruner of six total counts July 27. Afterward, several jurors, Hart included, met Roller Bruner’s family members in the parking lot of the courthouse, just as a thunderstorm that had raged all afternoon ended.
“It was a great feeling to hear from them,” Hart said. “I recall her sister came up to me and gave me a big hug. Every one of them thanked me and all of us and said, ‘now we can finally rest knowing justice was served.'”
By the time the attorneys finished their closing arguments and the jurors were sent into the deliberation room with evidence and strict instructions, Shafer said he was beyond a reasonable doubt.
But there were a few jurors, one in particular, who were less certain.
Though the defense presented Roller Bruner’s lover and his wife as potential suspects, most of the holdouts in the deliberation room thought she might have been killed in a random act of violence.
The jurors said they put their doubts out there for the group to consider, and one by one each doubt proved not to be reasonable.
In the end it came down to domestic violence, a pattern of abuse laid out by an expert witness, Amy Jackson with Advocates for Victims of Assault.
“I am 100 percent convinced that he murdered his wife,” Shafer said. “When I look at him as a person, I don’t see him as a murderer. I see him as a guy who has an anger problem. His entire life has got the best of him, and it finally culminated in murder.”
Love said before the expert’s testimony he wasn’t aware of the cycles of violence.
Jurors said of the more than 30 people who testified, the prosecution’s first witness – the Bruners’ 10-year-old daughter – and last witness, an expert on domestic violence, were the most compelling.
The daughter, who testified via closed-circuit video, told the court she heard her parents arguing the night her mother disappeared.
The expert explained to the court the cycles and patterns of domestic violence, which was a cornerstone of the prosecution’s case.
The jury was particularly vocal, asking nearly 70 questions of various witnesses over the course of the trial by jotting them down and passing them to the judge for approval.
Behind closed doors, they tried to keep the mood light while staying in the safe zone of topics they were legally allowed to talk about. Over the two weeks of the trail, jurors say they built up a rapport.
“We really clicked,” Love said. “By the time we got to deliberations you could kind of count on everyone being respectful.”
“If I found myself in the defendant’s chair in a courtroom, I would want this jury to hear the facts,” Shafer said.