Murder trial: Investigators stack up case against Dale Bruner
Ryan Summerlin July 25, 2012
Investigators laid out the evidence Wednesday that led them to believe photographer Dale Bruner killed his wife and helped them eliminate two other suspects.
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.
A grand jury indicted Bruner on charges of second-degree murder, first-degree assault and tampering with evidence.
Testimony in court over the last week has indicated the Bruners’ marriage was falling apart in 2010. Roller Bruner had taken out a restraining order against her husband, filed for divorce and was seeing another man.
Along with Bruner, that man, Ron Holthaus, and his wife, Cindy Bragg Holthaus, at the time were among investigators top suspects.
But Holthaus and his wife each offered an alibi for the other – both saying they were at home in bed the night Roller Bruner disappeared – and computer records and their journals appeared to support their story, according to investigators who testified Wednesday.
They said suspects were eliminated if they were found not to have motive, ability or opportunity.
“If you knock out any one of those pegs to that three-legged stool, that person is no longer a suspect,” Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent Greg Sadar testified Wednesday.
A search of both the Bruner and the Holthaus residences turned up nothing, neither physical evidence nor signs of a struggle or violent crime, Sadar testified Wednesday.
The jury was also shown graphic video and photos from the day Roller Bruner’s body was found in the middle of the river. She was naked but for a T-shirt that was hanging off her body and was covered in snow and ice.
Summit County Coroner Joanne Richardson said she estimated Roller Bruner had been in the river two to three days when she was found. She told the court that, due to the fact that there was no damage to the soles of Roller Bruner’s bare feet when she was found, Richardson didn’t believe she got into the river by herself.
“(I knew) she was carried to the river because of the way her clothes were and the way her body was situated in the river,” Richardson told the court. “Somebody dumped her.”
Prosecutors say Roller Bruner was the victim of domestic violence, and have called several witnesses to testify to Bruner’s ability to hurt his wife and Roller Bruner’s fear of her husband prior to her death.
The defense has built its case on the holes in the police investigation. Defense attorney Robert Bernhardt called the case against his client one of “conjecture” and “speculation” and said authorities never looked seriously at anyone else.
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.