First week of testimony ends in a Summit County murder trial
Ryan Summerlin July 21, 2012
BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado – A day of emotionally charged testimony wrapped up last week 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.
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.
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.
“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 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.