Vail Valley murder suspect Leigha Ackerson claiming a lifetime of abuse in defense |

Vail Valley murder suspect Leigha Ackerson claiming a lifetime of abuse in defense

Ackerson claims she played no part in the murder of Catherine Kelley

Leigha Ackerson's defense may hinge on her mental condition. Her attorneys say she has been the victim of a lifetime of abuse. She's charged with murder in the killing of Catherine Kelley.
Daily file photo
Ackerson's Eight Felonies Leigha Ackerson's husband, Jacob White, pleaded guilty to second degree murder. Ackerson's trial is schedule for October. She is charged with:
  1. Murder 1, After deliberation.
  2. Murder 1, Felony murder.
  3. Conspiracy to commit Murder 1.
  4. Burglary 1, Armed with weapons or explosives.
  5. Aggravated Robbery, With intent to kill, maim or wound.
  6. Conspiracy to commit Aggravated Robbery, With intend to kill, maim, or wound.
  7. Conspiracy to commit Burglary 1 and Assault.
  8. Tampering with physical evidence.

EAGLE — A murder trial is still on track for October, but prosecutors say they don’t have the results of the suspect’s mental examination.

Leigha Ackerson’s mental condition examination was June 3, but Chief Deputy District Attorney Joe Kirwan says prosecutors have not been given the results.

Amber St. Clair, one of Ackerson’s defense attorneys along with Jennifer Melton, said in a hearing Wednesday that prosecutors have everything they have.

Another hearing is scheduled for August as both sides prepare for an October trial.

Ackerson pleaded not guilty

Ackerson claims she played no part in the murder of Catherine Kelley in Kelley’s Pilgrim Downs home.

Support Local Journalism

Prosecutors say Ackerson played a role in the killing and charged her with eight felonies, including first-degree murder. If she’s convicted, she will go to prison for life.

Ackerson is being held without bond in the Eagle County jail.

Ackerson’s husband, Jacob White, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder over the objections of Kelley’s family who wanted him to stand trial for capital murder. White is spending at least the next six decades in prison.

They did, or did not know what they were doing

In a previous hearing, Assistant District Attorney Heidi McCollum insisted Ackerson and White acted with intent in the alleged crime.

“No one heads down in the middle of the night in sub-zero temperatures. This was not a random act. They knew exactly what they were doing,” McCollum said.

Defense attorneys are making Ackerson’s mental condition an issue as part of their defense strategy, Melton said.

They say was home schooled in a fundamentalist Christian household, creating a sense of isolation. The abuse continued after she married White, St. Clair said.

Ackerson’s mental condition led to her compliance in entering Kelley’s home, and to “be susceptible to” her husband, St. Clair said.

White’s courtroom confession

In his courtroom confession, White said he and Ackerson drove to Colorado from the East Coast, stopped in several Front Range pot shops to buy marijuana and headed up into the mountains. He said their car broke down near Edwards, where they set up camp during the dead of the 2017 winter.

Eventually they broke into Kelley’s new Pilgrim Downs home and hid in a bedroom, smoking the marijuana they had bought.

Eventually, the two came downstairs, wrapped in robes from Kelley’s home and surprised her.

As Kelley was looking in the refrigerator for food to feed them, Kelley was attacked and beaten and strangled to death.

White said he and Ackerson loaded Kelley’s car with items stolen from Kelley’s house, but could not operate the keypad to start it. They called an Uber to get away, but a property manager called police. They ran outside to hide in the snow and single-digit temperatures, White said.

Shivering and cold, they soon surrendered to Eagle County Sheriff’s deputies who were searching the area.

Support Local Journalism