Bruner trial: Stephanie Roller Bruner’s lover takes the witness stand
July 20, 2012
BRECKENRIDGE – A day of emotionally charged testimony Friday wrapped up with the statements of the man Stephanie Roller Bruner was seeing, and his former wife.
Both Ron Holthaus and his ex-wife, Cindy Bragg Holthaus, were treated as suspects in the initial investigation into Roller Bruner’s 2010 murder, they testified, and both denied killing her on the witness stand Friday.
Roller Bruner’s husband, Dale Bruner, is charged with second-degree murder, first-degree assault and tampering with evidence in the killing of his wife, whose body was found in the Blue River near the couple’s Silverthorne home in November 2010.
Roller Bruner, a dance instructor and mother of three, had been having an affair with Holthaus, and filed for divorce weeks before she died.
Prosecutors are calling the case domestic violence, while the defense holds the Silverthorne police led a sub-par investigation focused on Bruner from the start.
Two of Bruner’s ex-girlfriends and one of Stephanie Roller Bruner’s friends also testified Friday, during a day of questioning that reduced almost every witness to tears.
A woman who described Bruner as a “mentor” or older-brother figure to her cried as she testified Friday that the man she’d admired hinted that he wanted his wife gone in the weeks before she disappeared.
“That really is why I’m here,” the woman told the court. “He wanted her dead. … He talked about her having a heart attack.”
Bruner’s ex-girlfriends testified Friday that he’d been physically violent with them during arguments, both describing incidents where he’d wrapped his hands around their throats.
“It was the most scared I’ve ever been in my life,” said one of the women, who dated Bruner for nearly two years in the early 1990s. “For a split second I thought it could have escalated.”
Defense attorney Robert Bernhardt continued his offensive arguments through cross examination Friday, taking aim at the police investigation of the case, as well as the claims of the women who testified for the prosecution.
He asked each of the ex-girlfriends whether they had ever filed reports about Bruner’s abusive behavior. Both testified they had not.
During cross examination, Holthaus and Bragg Holthaus testified law enforcement did not search their home or vehicles until Dec. 4, a week after Roller Bruner’s body was found.
When another prosecution witness, Roller Bruner’s friend Anne Jacobs, testified as to the victim’s fear of her husband before her death, Bernhardt fired back questions about why they didn’t discuss her affair.
“You weren’t that good of a friend, were you ma’am?” he concluded.
Bernhardt called the case one of “conjecture” and “speculation” in his opening arguments Wednesday.
Prosecutors indicated they will likely rest their case by the middle of next week, at which point the defense will have the opportunity to call witnesses to the stand.
Holthaus and Bragg Holthaus each faced arguably the most blunt question asked of any witness thus far on Friday, and it came from the prosecution.
“Ron, did you kill Stephanie Bruner?” District Attorney Mark Hurlbert asked the man Roller Bruner had reportedly called her “soul mate” in the weeks before her death. His ex-wife faced the same tough question.
Both answered with a soft, but emphatic “no.”
On the witness stand, Holthaus described meeting Stephanie Roller Bruner through Dancing with the Mountain Stars, a competition modeled on a TV show during which she was his instructor and dance partner.
The two danced together through the summer of 2010 and began a more meaningful relationship after the competition in late September the same year.
“I really cared for her,” he told the court. “She was a phenomenal woman.”
He testified the two had an “emotional affair,” and that kissing was the extent of their physical relationship. He also said he was prepared to end their relationship when Roller Bruner disappeared, as he and his wife had just returned from a trip to Hawaii and had decided to work on their marriage.
When he was told Roller Bruner was missing on Nov. 23, 2010, he came clean with his wife about the affair, he testified.
Both Holthaus and Bragg Holthaus claimed Bragg Holthaus did not know about the affair until the day after Roller Bruner’s disappeared.
Bragg Holthaus later testified that she was angry with both Roller Bruner and her husband when she found out about the affair.
“I was very upset with him, and very upset with her,” she told the court. “I blamed her for destroying my marriage.”
Holthaus and Bragg Holthaus both testified they were at home in bed together the night Roller Bruner disappeared. Both said they would have noticed if the other one had left the bedroom for an extended period of time.
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.
Law-enforcement officers, police dogs and later search and rescue combed the area around Roller Bruner’s home for three days as her family and friends poured in to town from other parts of the country to help.
On Nov. 26, 2010, her body was discovered in the river, and cause of death was later ruled a combination of blunt force trauma, strangulation, hypothermia and drowning. She’d been the victim of a homicide, the Summit County Coroner said.
Bruner was publicly named the prime suspect soon after.
He was indicted by a grand jury on multiple felony charges in August 2011. He has declined several plea deals from the prosecution.
Court records paint a picture of a crumbling marriage in the weeks leading up to Roller Bruner’s death and things appeared to begin to unravel after she was laid off from her job as a planner for Summit County government in October 2010.
The same month, she requested a restraining order against Bruner, according to testimony at trial. She eventually vacated the restraining order, but later filed for divorce.
The couple had been married 11 years.
The couple’s three children are now living with Roller Bruner’s brother Aaron Roller and his wife in California.
Bruner has since moved to Fort Collins.