Bruner found guilty on all counts in wife’s murder
July 27, 2012
BRECKENRIDGE – A Summit County jury convicted photographer Dale Bruner of second-degree murder Friday night for the brutal killing of his wife, Stephanie Roller Bruner, in November, 2010.
The jury deliberated for only four hours before returning guilty verdicts on all six charges against Bruner: one count of second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault and three counts of tampering with evidence.
Bruner showed no outward emotion as the judge read the jury’s decision Friday night, but members of Roller Bruner’s family hugged, cried and smiled as they received the news.
“He got what was coming to him,” Roller Bruner’s sister Ramona Roller said at a press conference immediately following the verdict. “Justice was done.”
Roller Bruner’s family members said they would sleep a little easier that night knowing Bruner was in jail.
Bruner, who has been out on bond and living in Fort Collins since he was indicted by a grand jury a year ago, was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs and taken to the Summit County Jail.
Sentencing is set for Sept. 28.
Prosecutors Mark Hurlbert and Kristine Word said they were pleased with the verdict Friday night and relieved for the victim’s family.
“We are very happy with this verdict and grateful to the citizens of Summit County that sat on this jury,” Hurlbert said.
Word added that they were glad to be able to get justice for Stephanie Roller Bruner.
“We just wish we could do more,” she said.
Defense attorney Robert Bernhardt declined to comment.
Following the verdict, jurors gathered outside with family members, talking and hugging.
The prosecution called the Roller Bruner case classic domestic violence and noted that, for victims, the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when they try to leave.
“Women are ashamed, they’re embarrassed, they never expected to be in that kind of a relationship. It’s difficult for them to reach out,” Word said. “In this case, in the final days for Stephanie, she did reach out in her bravest days. Ultimately and tragically, that led to her death.”
Bruner faces up to 48 years in prison for the second-degree murder charge, up to 32 years for both first-degree assault charges and up to 18 months on each of the tampering charges, according to prosecutors.
Stephanie Roller Bruner’s body was discovered in the Blue River in November of 2010, three days after Bruner reported her missing from their home in Silverthorne. She’d died of a combination of strangulation, blunt force trauma, hypothermia and drowning.
Without sufficient physical evidence to make an arrest, a grand jury was convened seven months later, delivering an indictment against Bruner.
Testimony in court over the last two weeks indicated the Bruners’ marriage was falling apart in 2010. Roller Bruner, a dance instructor and mother of three, had taken out a restraining order against her husband, filed for divorce and was seeing another man.
The prosecution characterized the case as domestic violence and called Roller Bruner’s friends and family members to the stand to testify to her fear of her husband, the couple’s marital problems and Bruner’s alleged history of physical abuse of women in his life.
The defense called the case one of “speculation” and “conjecture,” claiming the police had led a sub-par investigation and never looked seriously at anyone other than Bruner.
Bernhardt also focused on the lack of physical evidence in the case.
Over the course of the trial, the jury of two women and 10 men saw graphic photographs of the discovery of Roller Bruner’s body and of her autopsy. They also heard Roller Bruner’s own voice, recorded during a court hearing for the restraining order she was seeking against her husband weeks prior to her death. On the recording, Roller Bruner cried and said her husband had threatened to kill her years before, if she ever tried to leave him.
Prosecutors said strangulation was Bruner’s trademark after Roller Bruner and two other women who had dated him said he’d put his hands around their throats during heated arguments.
Bruner reported his wife missing just before Thanksgiving, 2010, telling authorities they had gotten into a small fight the night before and that she’d gone for a walk to clear her head.
She never came home.
The following morning he tried to call her cellphone several times before taking his children to the school bus and contacting the police.
On Nov. 26, 2010, her body was discovered in the river, about a five-minute walk from her house. Cause of death was later ruled a combination of blunt force trauma, strangulation, hypothermia and drowning.
Bruner was publicly named the prime suspect soon after.
The Bruners had been married 11 years.
Their three young children are now living with Roller Bruner’s brother and his wife in California.