Breckenridge murder trial attracting national attention
Ryan Summerlin July 10, 2012
Nearly two years after local mother and dance instructor Stephanie Roller Bruner was murdered, the case is coming to a head as her husband, Dale Bruner, heads to trial to face second-degree murder charges.
The trial starts Tuesday with state and national media watching.
Not only are Denver news outlets expected to pick up the story, but the story has also attracted the attention of national television news magazine broadcasts.
“Dateline NBC” plans to do a special on the Bruner story and CBS’s “48-Hours Mystery” has also been to Summit County to film for an upcoming episode that will feature the case.
Cameras will be allowed inside the court, officials announced this week, but will be confined to a media room with a view of the trial through a one-way window.
The level of media interest in the case is unusual, even for a violent crime in a rural area, District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said.
“It is kind of odd,” he said. “We (usually) get local coverage, but not national.”
Presiding Judge Mark Thompson denied a defense motion to move the trial out of Summit County in June, despite media and public attention to the case since Roller Bruner’s death and her husband’s indictment several months later.
“Murder is a rare crime in Summit County,” Thompson said at the hearing. “Some elevated coverage is expected, but that is not to say that a higher level of coverage mandates a change of venue.”
An extended jury selection process will begin Tuesday and is expected continue into the following day as council and the court seat jurors on the case and give specific jury instructions.
The court called a larger-than-normal pool of 300 potential jurors.
Opening statements may be given as early as next Wednesday afternoon.
Bruner is charged with second-degree murder, first-degree assault and tampering with physical evidence following his wife’s killing in November 2010. He was indicted by a grand jury in August 2011.
Bruner reported Stephanie Roller Bruner, a former county employee, dance instructor and mother of three, 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 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.
Several people who knew the couple, including Bruner’s former girlfriend, said he had a history of physical abuse, according to court documents.
The couple’s three children are now living with Roller Bruner’s brother and his wife in California.
Bruner has since moved to Fort Collins.