Alleged murderer pleads not guilty; October trial set for Jacob White, Catherine Kelley’s alleged killer | VailDaily.com

Alleged murderer pleads not guilty; October trial set for Jacob White, Catherine Kelley’s alleged killer

EAGLE — The man charged with murdering a Vail Valley woman in her home said he is not guilty.

Jacob Taylor White was arraigned on first-degree murder charges and seven other felonies for allegedly murdering Catherine Kelley in her Pilgrim Downs home and then called for an Uber as the getaway car.

In a Friday morning, June 8, hearing before District Court Judge Paul Dunkelman, White sat at the defendant's table beside court-appointed attorney Terry O'Connor and entered a not guilty plea.

"Do you wish to enter a not guilty plea today?" Dunkelman asked White.

"Yes, I do," White replied.

The trial is scheduled for later this year, Oct. 29 to Nov. 16. For now, Assistant District Attorney Heidi McCollum and Chief Deputy District Attorney Joe Kirwan are headed to separate trials for White and his wife, Leigha Paige Ackerson, who was reportedly also in Kelley's home with White when she was killed. If they're convicted, then they'll go to prison for the rest of their lives.

Recommended Stories For You

District Attorney Bruce Brown has until Friday, June 29, to decide whether to seek the death penalty for White and until Thursday, July 12, for Ackerson.

Hearings are scheduled through the summer and autumn leading up to White's trial.

Ackerson is scheduled to be arraigned on Friday, July 13. Her trial date has not yet been set.

The two appeared in court separately Friday morning, first Ackerson and then White.

Some of Kelley's family members were in the courtroom during Friday's hearings. They glanced at but did not make eye contact with Kelley's accused murderers, who shuffled in and out of the courtroom, shackled and handcuffed.

Ackerson and White did not look at Kelley's family, either, moving from the jail to the courtroom for their hearings and then back to jail. The hearings lasted about three minutes each.

It was quiet in the courtroom, so quiet you could hear the seconds tick away on the wall clock — the sound of waiting, of the wheels of the judicial system turning. Those wheels tend to turn slowly, much to the chagrin of many who seem to believe that, like the TV cop shows they watch, cases wrap up in an hour including commercials.

In real life, it takes about two years to bring an accused murderer to trial, prosecutors said.

What police say happened

Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis determined that Kelley was strangled to death. Eagle County Sheriff's deputies found her body in her Pilgrim Downs home.

Ackerson and White are charged with breaking into Kelley's home, robbing it and killing her.

It also appears that they hired an Uber to get away. A Pilgrim Downs property manager spotted an Uber driver waiting at the locked Pilgrim Downs gate. When the property manager questioned the driver, the driver told the property manager that he had been called to the gate to pick up two passengers, the arrested affidavit said. The property manager also saw lights on in Kelley's home at a time of night when they would not normally be, according to the arrest affidavit.

The property manager went to Kelley's door but got no response. He decided something was wrong and used the gate intercom to contact his house, asking his wife to call 911, according to the arrest affidavit. There is limited cellphone service in that area.

Systematic search

Deputies found a window broken on the ground level, along with other signs of forced entry. They also found two sets of fresh footprints in the snow around the house, according to police reports.

Following those footprints away from Kelley's home, they spotted articles taken from the home and strewn around the property.

After quickly obtaining a search warrant to enter Kelley's home, deputies found her body inside.

Searchers found White and Ackerson, and the dog they brought with them, about 400 yards from Kelley's home, shivering and cold in single-digit temperatures.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.