Preliminary hearing underway for suspects in Elliot Stahl murder case
A timeline of events leading to the discovery of Elliot Stahl’s body near the Flat Tops Wilderness Area south of Yampa on Oct. 14, 2019, was a key piece of evidence offered by the prosecution during the first two days of testimony in a preliminary hearing being held for the suspects charged with the murder of the 26-year-old Steamboat Springs man.
The hearings for each of the defendants — William C. Ellifritz, 26; Brooke L. Forquer, 21; and Skyla Marie Piccolo-Laabs, 23, all of Craig — were combined into one proceeding, which began Monday, Jan. 6, at the Routt County Judicial Center.
According to testimony provided by Detective Tom Munden, with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office, Stahl’s body was found by a fisherman around 10:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, on a two-track road just off Forest Service Road 907 and Routt County Road 7.
“When I arrived on the scene, I couldn’t immediately see the body,” Munden said. “It wasn’t until I walked down the two-track road off of the main road that I could see the body.”
He said he also noticed a boot print and drag marks that led in the direction of the body. He said he observed blood around Stahl’s face, on his T-shirt and on the blue jeans that had been laid next to his body. Munden said he could not see the fatal stab wound on Stahl’s neck because of the position of his head, but he did notice there was a pair of sunglasses, which were missing a lens, hanging from the neck of Stahl’s T-shirt.
“It looked as if this was not where it happened,” Munden said. “He was placed there.”
Investigators create crime timeline
Munden also testified about a timeline he created of where Stahl was in the days leading up to his death.
According to Munden, Stahl was released from Routt County Jail on a failure to appear charge around 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10.
His next contact with law enforcement was at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 12. The manager at the Walmart in Steamboat called police asking that Stahl be removed from the property.
Later in the day, Stahl was the passenger in a vehicle that was involved in a traffic stop west of Hayden. The driver of the vehicle was eventually arrested, and Stahl was given a courtesy ride to the east Kum & Go in Craig. He was dropped off at 4 p.m. and then picked up by a woman named Amber Dunn who took him to her house just outside of Craig, according to Munden.
During the traffic stop, body cam footage shows an officer searching through a backpack belonging to Stahl. Munden said the video showed several prescription pill bottles as well as clothing items that were the same as the ones Stahl was wearing when his body was found.
According to Dunn, Stahl left her home around 2 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, Oct. 13.
In interviews with law enforcement officials, Forquer, Piccolo-Laabs and Ellifritz admitted they were at Dunn’s house with Stahl, and they left together in Forquer’s vehicle after Forquer agreed to give Stahl a ride to Denver for $100.
Surveillance video footage taken at Casey’s Pond in Steamboat, which was entered into evidence at the hearing, shows Forquer’s 2001 gray Mazda four-door car driving into the parking lot and Stahl getting out of the vehicle around 8:30 a.m. Oct. 13. Another video shows someone who looks like Forquer stepping out of the driver’s side door, going around to the back of the vehicle and opening the trunk of the car. Stahl can be seen putting his backpack in the trunk, and the car leaves the parking lot around 9 a.m.
The vehicle is also seen passing the Blue Heron dispensary in Oak Creek going southbound through town at 9:38 a.m. and then going back northbound at 10:54 a.m. Oak Creek is located between Steamboat Springs and the town of Yampa on Colorado Highway 131.
According to statements Piccolo-Laabs and Forquer made to law enforcement officials, Ellifritz stabbed Stahl in the neck with a knife as the four were driving up Rabbit Ears on U.S. Highway 40, and he then directed Forquer to drive to the area south of Yampa where he dumped Stahl’s body.
Backpack, clothing discovered
Munden was also asked about a search in the South Beach area southwest of Craig on Nov. 25. Based on a tip, law enforcement officers found Stahl’s backpack at the site along with clothing, prescription pill bottles and items from a vehicle, including a center console armrest and a floor mat. The clothing, which had blood on it, matched the clothing Stahl was wearing in the body cam video from the Oct. 12 traffic stop near Hayden.
During cross-examination, Munden confirmed that Stahl’s body was most likely placed at the location where it was found around 10 a.m. Oct. 13. The body was not discovered until around 11 a.m. Oct. 14, and the body was not processed by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation until the following day.
“So there was 25 hours where the scene would not be considered secure?” asked Ellifritz’s defense attorney Kiyomi Bolick.
“Yes,” Munden said.
On re-cross, Munden explained that the processing of the body was delayed to allow CBI to process the crime scene in the daylight.
Autopsy results revealed
Detective TJ Sisto also testified at the hearing. He attended Stahl’s autopsy, which was performed by forensic pathologist Dr. Michael A. Burson in Loveland on Oct. 15, and he also witnessed the processing of Forquer’s vehicle by CBI on Oct. 21.
Sisto said the autopsy listed the cause of death as exsanguination — loss of blood — due to a stab wound to the neck and the manner of death as homicide. Sisto said the fatal stab wound was to the lower left side of Stahl’s neck and was 7 centimeters, or 2.76 inches, deep. The knife path, according to the report, went through several layers of muscle and penetrated the esophagus, trachea and right jugular vein.
Sisto also testified there were five additional stab wounds, including a small puncture wound on the left cheek, a stab wound between the left shoulder and pectoral muscle and two wounds near the base of the neck.
The wounds were consistent with Piccolo-Laabs’ and Forquer’s statements that Ellifritz stabbed Stahl in the neck and then forced Piccolo-Laabs and Forquer to also stab Stahl with the knife.
The toxicology report indicated that Stahl had high levels of methamphetamine — 5,300 nanograms — in his system along with smaller amounts of amphetamine, diazepam and hydrocodone.
“I thought that was a very high amount,” Sisto said when asked about the significance of the drug levels.
Sisto also testified about the interior of Forquer’s vehicle, which was processed at the Moffat County Safety Center in Craig. He reported there were apparent blood stains near the passenger side door and blood stains on the dashboard and door well.
“The front passenger compartment and center console area were covered with a lot of black spray paint that appeared to be covering up a good amount of blood,” Sisto said. “According to interviews, this is the area where Elliot Stahl was seated when he was stabbed.”
Sisto also said a sunglass lens, which was consistent with the one missing from the sunglasses found on Stahl’s body, was found in the car.
A day of questioning
On cross-examination, which lasted all day Tuesday, Jan. 7, Sisto was questioned on several fronts. He was asked about interviews he conducted with Piccolo-Laabs prior to her arrest and interviews that other law enforcement officials conducted with various witnesses connected with the case.
Forquer’s defense attorney Erin Wilson asked several questions focusing on Ellifritz’s behavior following the discovery of Stahl’s body. Bolick, Ellifritz’s attorney, asked Sisto about information Forquer and Piccolo-Laabs left out of their statements to law enforcement and knives that were taken into evidence from the home where the two women were living together at the time of the murder.
Marshall Breit, the attorney representing Piccolo-Laabs, questioned Sisto about the challenges the coroner faced in conducting the autopsy because of the delay in processing the body. He pointed out a section in the autopsy report where Burson addresses his concern.
“Unfortunately, law enforcement deemed it necessary to leave the body out of doors exposed to the elements until the morning of October 15, 2019,” Burson wrote. “The environmental conditions were a concern as the temperature dipped into the low 20s overnight … the decedent will have undergone multiple freeze-thaw cycles, which may hinder observation of injuries grossly.”
It was also noted by Breit and confirmed by Sisto that there was no information in the autopsy report about the sequence of the wounds or if any of the wounds were inflicted post-mortem.
The preliminary hearing is scheduled to resume Thursday, Jan. 16. Investigator Doug Winters with the District Attorney’s Office, who conducted recorded interviews with Piccolo-Laabs and Forquer, will testify.
The case is being prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Alexandra Jennings and District Attorney Matt Karzen. Judge Michael O’Hara is presiding over the proceedings, which are expected to conclude Friday, Jan. 17.