No death penalty sought in Vail Valley murder case; both accused murderers plead not guilty in Catherine Kelley’s death |

No death penalty sought in Vail Valley murder case; both accused murderers plead not guilty in Catherine Kelley’s death

Catherine Kelley was found killed in her Pilgrim Downs home. The accused murderers Leigha Ackerson and Jacob White, both pleaded not guilty. White goes on trial Oct. 29. Ackerson's trial begins in Jan. 2019.
Special to the Daily

EAGLE — Leigha Paige Ackerson, through her attorneys Amber St. Clair and Jennifer Melton, entered a not guilty plea during a hearing Friday morning, July 13. Ackerson and Jacob White are charged with first degree murder in the killing of Catherine Kelley in her Pilgrim Downs home.

“We acknowledge receipt of the indictment and enter a plea of not guilty,” St. Clair told District Court Judge Paul Dunkelman.

Ackerson’s trial is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 7, through Friday, Jan. 25. White, who plead not guilty last month, is scheduled for trial Monday, Oct. 29, through Friday, Nov. 16.

No death penalty

Prosecutors will not seek the death penalty, Assistant District Attorney Heidi McCollum said after Friday morning’s hearing. If they are convicted, then White and Ackerson will spend the rest of their lives in prison without the possibility of parole.

Prosecutors are asking for White and Ackerson’s medical records from Vail Health hospital, where Ackerson and White were examined after they were arrested during single-digit weather in February.

Prosecutors were not concerned about White and Ackerson’s health but are looking for statements the two might have made that could be admissible at their trial, Chief Deputy District Attorney Joe Kirwan said.

Prosecutors also subpoenaed the ambulance district for the same reasons, Kirwan said, and because they say paramedics may have been assaulted while they were treating and transporting Ackerson and White to the hospital on the night they were arrested.

St. Clair does not want prosecutors to have those records.

“It seems to be that they issued the subpoena to go on a fishing expedition, to see if there was any relevant information,” St. Clair argued.

Those records are protected under privacy laws, she said.

“They cannot even tell you if the information they’re seeking is relevant to their investigation. They do not even know what they are seeking,” St. Clair said.

Dunkelman said he would examine the documents in private and determine if they contain any relevant information. If they do, then he’ll decide whether it will be made part of the evidence.

Uber getaway car

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

White and Ackerson brought a dog with them that night in February, according to their arrest affidavit.

It also appears that they hired an Uber to get away, according to police reports. 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 cell service in that area.

Systematic search

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

Following those footprints away from Kelley’s home, they spotted articles taken from the home 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

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