Jury visits Bruner home, fateful spot on river
Ryan Summerlin July 24, 2012
BRECKENRIDGE – The 12 jurors who will decide whether photographer Dale Bruner is guilty of the murder of his wife traveled a grassy trail on Tuesday between the Bruners’ home and the site where her body was discovered.
The search and rescue official who pulled Stephanie Roller Bruner’s body from the Blue River nearly two years ago showed the jurors the exact spot where she was found, an approximately five-minute walk from her house.
Bruner is on trial for second-degree murder, first-degree assault and tampering with evidence following his wife’s death in November, 2010.
Roller Bruner, a dance instructor and mother of three, had been having what’s been described as an “emotional” affair and filed for divorce weeks before she died.
Prosecutors are calling the case domestic violence, arguing Bruner killed his wife in a fit of rage brought about by their failing marriage.
Defense attorney Robert Bernhardt has built his case on the Silverthorne Police Department’s investigation, saying investigators never looked seriously at any other suspect.
Testimony from investigators Tuesday focused on the Bruner home, which was not secured as a crime scene during the three days between Roller Bruner’s disappearance and the discovery of her body, possibly compromising physical evidence that might have been important at trial, the defense argued.
“Would it be fair to say, based on your experience … that it’s critical to get to that crime scene, get it secured and get it locked down as quickly as possible because … valuable clues can be lost over time?” Bernhardt asked Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) agent Greg Sadar Tuesday.
Thus far, very little physical evidence has been presented to the jury.
Under fire from the defense, investigators said they did not treat the house as a crime scene because, before Roller Bruner’s body was found, it was a missing persons case and they couldn’t be sure a crime had been committed.
CBI agents did do a cursory search of the residence while Roller Bruner was missing, but testified they did not see anything in the messy house to suggest foul play.
“The house was in pretty rough shape,” Sadar testified, saying he didn’t find any signs of a struggle or any signs a crime scene had been cleaned up. “The house was in such a state of disarray it was hard to find anything.”
Prosecutors have noted that in such a mess, evidence of a struggle or a crime could be easily hidden.
Search and rescue personnel who discovered Roller Bruner’s body also testified Tuesday, saying she was nearly naked and had fresh snow and algae on her body, suggesting she’d been in the water for some time before she was found.
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert has called more than 20 witnesses to the stand thus far, including Roller Bruner’s brother, her love interest, Ron Holthaus, and Holthaus’s ex-wife.
Their case thus far has focused on Bruner’s alleged history of physical abuse in his personal relationships and his reportedly odd behavior during the time Roller Bruner was missing. They are expected to present recordings of Roller Bruner’s voice telling a judge her husband had threatened her life from a hearing for a restraining order she got against Bruner weeks before her death.
Hurlbert confirmed he expects to rest his case today or early Thursday. The trial is set to continue through Friday.
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 and his wife in California.
Bruner has since moved to Fort Collins.