The murder in February of Aspen native Nancy Pfister was unusual in many regards, chief among them that murders are very rare in Aspen. It has been unusual in how the prosecution and law enforcement refused to reveal details of the arrests of three people charged in the homicide. As the case moves slowly forward it will could also stand out for how much money is being spent to find justice for Nancy Pfister. Initial review shows the costs are already into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
When the 911 call came in on February 26, reporting that Nancy Pfister had been found dead in her Buttermilk home, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s office was first on the scene. So the department has been spending money on the case longer than any other agency. Ron Ryan is Undersheriff for Pitkin County, and ran some preliminary numbers.
"At this point we’ve spent about $50,000 - $60,000 related to this incident alone. In that is overtime expenses, logistics, support for the people who’ve been working on this incident."
Almost $60,000 as of late last week. That covers investigators, logistics, crime scene forensics and myriad other details. Ongoing costs include the expense of transporting defendants to court. Two deputies are required every time one of them is moved from to and from jail.
“We anticipate regular use of overtime for this specific incident primarily in court security and prisoner transports.”
The three defendants are William and Nancy Styler, who rented Pfister's home and Kathy Carpenter, an Aspen local and friend to Pfister. They're now being held at three different jails: in Pitkin, Eagle, and Garfield counties. The rough total for incarceration so far is just about $20,000, but that figure is going up with each day.
Bill Kaufman is with the Eagle County Sheriff's Department. He says they’ll have to decide whether to ask Pitkin to pay Eagle back for their slice of the bill. In the meantime, there might be other services the jail provides for Ms. Styler.
"There could be some medical costs that may be incurred, there may be some other programming that she may take that is already paid for out of a different fund than the county budget.”
So at this point, with just law enforcement and incarceration the total is at about $80,000. Then there are the legal fees to charge the three defendants with first degree murder and conspiracy to murder. The three are being prosecuted by District Attorney Sherry Caloia and her team. Caloia says her office had these totals as of last week:
“So far it looks like we have about five hundred hours of investigator time on the case. And between two hundred and fifty and three hundred attorney hours on the case.”
Reporter: Some of these hours were overtime, bringing the tally to more than $270,000. To be clear, this is within the DA’s budget for prosecuting crimes... but, additional costs are certain.
“There will be some costs incurred with obtaining records from various agencies and businesses. There’s also CBI that’s been involved, and there will be costs involved with testing of various material, and things that are found, DNA testing for example, fingerprint testing.”
Caloia expects her office to have additional expenses in the tens of thousands of dollars so we’ll use a conservative estimate of $20,000. That brings us to a total of $370,000 so far… again, all of it from existing law enforcement and prosecution budgets and additional expenses.
Another fact of this murder case is that there are lots of lawyers involved. On the defense side several attorneys... are representing the Stylers and Kathy Carpenter. Some of them are public defenders, others are so-called court appointed counsel. It’s not clear what the estimated defense costs have been to date. We do know court appointed attorneys are paid sixty eight dollars an hour.
Court administrators are spending time on the murder case. These are the judge, court clerk, and other court employees… and they’re not required to keep track of time spent on individual cases.
Considering a trial is many weeks, if not months, away, the $370,000 spent so far likely will be dwarfed by the final bill. While the numbers are impressive, District Attorney Caloia says the costs are actually coming in on the low side.
“It doesn’t appear that we have a lot of out of state witnesses, which really push the cost up. In this case, we’re looking at people who are local, some other people who are at least within the state.”
All of this could change dramatically if the prosecution were to decide to bring a capital case against the defendants. If the death penalty is sought, costs would rise exponentially, because of the required appeals process. Research has show it is many times more expensive to sentence someone to death than to life in prison.