Greeley man accused of strangling woman and hiding her body in a steamer trunk pleads guilty |

Greeley man accused of strangling woman and hiding her body in a steamer trunk pleads guilty

Tommy Simmons / Greeley Tribune

A little more than two weeks before his trial was scheduled to begin, David Batty, 53, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in connection with the death of a woman whose body police say he sodomized then hid in a trunk in his closet.

Batty initially faced a first-degree murder charge after his parole officers in March 2016 found the body of Tonya Lei Webster, 47, in a steamer trunk in his closet. For months after the discovery of the body, little was known publicly about the case because Batty’s arrest affidavit was — and still is — sealed, meaning the public has no access to it.

He appeared in court for about 5 minutes Thursday morning in an orange jail uniform to enter his guilty plea. He showed no emotion in the courtroom and answered Weld District Court Judge Timothy Kerns’ questions in monosyllabic words as the judge asked him if he was satisfied with his attorneys and whether he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He had said little more by the time Weld County Sheriff’s deputies led him out of the courtroom in handcuffs at the end of the hearing.

He was equally stone-faced at a 3-hour preliminary hearing in late September, when police and prosecutors said Batty and Williams knew each other. They’d met at a local homeless shelter three years before her death and formed a friendship. That friendship later became intimate, police said.

During the September hearing, attorneys referenced the final texts sent from Williams’ phone on March 11. They seemed to indicate she was going to Batty’s house for sex. Sometime between March 11 and March 16, though, police believe she was strangled, and her body was hidden in an antique steamer trunk that belonged to Batty’s grandfather.

Police also said March 2016 was a tumultuous time for Batty. He’d been showing up to work drunk, then stopped showing up altogether. He missed appointments with his parole officers, which prompted them to go to his house in the 1400 block of 9th Avenue. When they arrived, they were met with an eviction notice taped to his front door.

Batty has a history of domestic violence. Court records show misdemeanor convictions in other counties in 2006. In 2009, in Weld County, he was sentenced to 90 days in jail for a misdemeanor harassment charge. In 2010, he was charged with violating a protection order.

The September court date ended inconclusively, because more evidence was discovered during the course of the hearing. Jake Goldstein, Batty’s attorney, acknowledged at the hearing the case was murky in places, pointing out attorneys did not know exactly when Williams died.

“This case isn’t a case where my client stabbed someone then walked to the police department and confessed,” Goldstein said at the close of the September hearing. “I think the (prosecution’s) claim that this is a first-degree murder is tenuous at best.”

In February, Batty initially pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. His trial date was set for July 10.

Instead of a trial date, the case is now scheduled for an August sentencing hearing. Batty faces between 16 and 48 years in prison.

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