Jacob White to police: ‘We give up, it’s too cold’
In Day 3 of Leigha Ackerson's murder trial, police recount quick capture of two suspects in Catherine Kelley's death
EAGLE — After police swept through Catherine Kelley’s home in Pilgrim Downs and found her murdered in a walk-in shower in her bathroom the night of Jan. 24, 2018, it didn’t take long for them to find and arrest two suspects: Jacob White and his wife, Leigha Ackerson.
Taking the stand Wednesday for the third day of Ackerson’s first-degree murder trial, Eagle County Sheriff’s deputies said they mounted a manhunt in the frigid, early hours of Jan. 25.
They had assistance from Colorado State Patrol troopers, who helped set up a perimeter around the home and neighborhood, as well as from two Summit County deputies who responded to the scene, one with a K-9.
The search started near a neighboring house in the gated Pilgrim Downs community, near the site where caretaker James Childers first saw items left along the side of the road to Kelley’s home, and deputies saw footprints in the snow.
Eagle County Detective Cory Diss told the jury officers made only two announcements into the night air, yelling, “Sheriff’s Office, come out with your hands up or we will release the K-9.” After the second, Diss said he looked uphill and saw two people walking down with their hands up and a dog following them.
“The individual in front looked like a male with dark hair,” Diss told the jury. “He said, ‘We give up, it’s too cold, we can’t run anymore,’ something along those lines.” The man and a woman with him both appeared to be wearing thin clothing “not conducive to what the weather was in January in the middle of the night,” Diss said.
The man and woman — who police would later identify as White and Ackerson — complied with orders to walk down the hill and lay down on their stomachs on the neighbor’s driveway, Diss told the jury. He recalled White was wearing a blue backpack with arrows coming out of the top of it and that Ackerson “ looked very skinny and was laying on the ground, shaking uncontrollably, probably due to the cold weather and laying on the pavement.”
Their dog started barking and became aggressive as police tried to approach the two suspects, Diss said. The animal was befriended and lured into a patrol vehicle with the offer of Colorado State Patrol Trooper Jacob Best’s uneaten lasagna dinner, according to testimony Wednesday.
Searching White, police testified they found some lighters, coins and cash, a knife with a 3-inch blade in a leather sheath, and three debit or credit cards in his pockets. The name on all three cards: Catherine Kelley.
Answering questions by Ackerson’s defense attorney, Amber St. Clair, Diss confirmed two observations in his original police report: That there was some type of liquid or spit coming out of White’s mouth, and that Ackerson “looked like a zombie” and had “a thousand-mile stare.”
Best searched Ackerson and found two items in her pockets: A knife in a leather sheath and a black cellphone.
‘An odd type of behavior’
Best told the jury he put Ackerson in his patrol car and turned the heat up, noticing that her pants were soaking wet and that she was clearly shaking and appeared cold. When he asked if she was injured, and later if she was warm enough or warming up, he got no response, only stares. He later noticed Ackerson fumbling around in the back of his car. She had gotten one hand out of the handcuffs, and was holding the cuff and chain in her hand, “moving it around and just staring at it like she was intrigued,” Best told the jury.
Ackerson put the handcuff back on when asked, but would not answer any questions, Best told the jury. “She would just stare at me,” Best recalled. “Several times I caught her staring either at the back of my head or in the rearview mirror, for a long time. It was very discomforting, an odd type of behavior. Most odd behavior I’ve experienced in my career as a law enforcement officer.”
Deputy Todd Sauer told the jury he later transported Ackerson to the hospital to be medically cleared to be taken to jail. He also testified briefly about the items found on the side of the road in baskets and about conditions he encountered inside Kelley’s home.
Dr. Scott McCorvey, an emergency physician at Vail Health, told the jury he assessed both White and Ackerson — though they did not provide their names at the time. He noted bruising around Ackerson’s eye and an abrasion on her chin. “I know a lot of the questions being asked were not being answered, in general terms, regarding both patients,” he said. “Neither wanted to tell us their names, their date of birth …”
When asked by defense attorney Jennifer Henslee if Ackerson was unable to respond to questions, McCorvey said that’s not how he felt. “There were some answers she was willing to provide, some she did not. Some were answered verbally, softly spoken. She was very, very softly spoken; sometimes you could not understand what she was saying, sometimes it was just gestures.”
Ackerson and White were both cleared to go to jail. White’s pants were taken as evidence because of an unusual amount of blood on the knee area, Deputy Andrew Teichman told the jury when asked by Ackerson’s other defense attorney, Amber St. Clair.
White has already pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and burglary and was sentenced to 68 years in prison for his role in Kelley’s death. Ackerson’s murder trial continues Thursday.
Tom Lotshaw can be reached at email@example.com.
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