Vail Valley murder trial postponed until January
Leigha Ackerson’s trial now scheduled to start Jan. 6, 2020
- Murder 1, After deliberation.
- Murder 1, Felony murder.
- Conspiracy to commit Murder 1.
- Burglary 1, Armed with weapons or explosives.
- Aggravated Robbery, With intent to kill, maim or wound.
- Conspiracy to commit Aggravated Robbery, With intend to kill, maim, or wound.
- Conspiracy to commit Burglary 1 and Assault.
- Tampering with physical evidence.
EAGLE — An attorney for a suspect in the murder of a Vail Valley woman asked for more time before going to trial because she is already the defense attorney in a Denver murder trial of a suspect in a mass shooting.
Jennifer Henslee was already defending Denver mass-shooting suspect Joshua Hayward when she agreed to replace one of Leigha Ackerson’s attorneys. Ackerson faces eight felony charges in connection with the Pilgrim Downs murder of Catherine Kelley, including two first-degree murder charges. Hayward goes on trial in December.
During a hearing Thursday morning, Henslee said she also has trials in September and October, before and after Ackerson’s trial originally scheduled to begin Oct. 29. Henslee and Amber St. Clair asked for more time to prepare Ackerson’s Vail Valley case.
“Just with the trial calendar, I don’t think I could be ready for an Oct. 29 trial,” Henslee said. “That simply does not give enough time for me to prepare for Ms. Ackerson’s case. I am committed to doing everything I can to prepare.”
Prosecutors and Kelley’s family members objected to the defense’s request.
District Court Judge Paul Dunkelman asked Ackerson if she was OK with postponing her trial.
“Do you understand you have the right to speedy trial?” Dunkelman asked Ackerson during Thursday’s hearing.
“Yes your honor,” Ackerson answered quietly.
“Are you willing to waive that right and accept a date in January?” Dunkelman asked.
“Yes, your honor,” Ackerson answered.
After a few minutes of discussion, Judge Dunkelman moved Ackerson’s trial date to Jan. 6, 2020. The trial is scheduled to last three weeks.
Henslee is new to the case after one of Ackerson’s other attorneys, Jennifer Melton, was appointed to be a judge in Jefferson County. Ackerson’s original attorney, Cynthia Jones, was appointed to be a judge in Clear Creek County.
Ackerson pleaded not guilty
Ackerson claims she was not part of murdering Kelley in Kelley’s Pilgrim Downs home on Jan. 24, 2018. She pleaded not guilty last July.
She is charged her with eight felonies, including first-degree murder. If she’s convicted, she will go to prison for life. She 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.
Prosecutors say Ackerson and White acted consciously in the slaying of Kelley. Defense attorneys say they’ll make Ackerson’s mental condition an issue as part of their defense strategy.
They say she was home schooled in a fundamentalist Christian household, creating a sense of isolation. The abuse continued after she married White, and made her “susceptible to him,” St. Clair said.
Talk about perfect timing. Beaver Creek Resort made the big announcement earlier in the week that it would open Saturday, four days ahead of schedule, and then the flakes started flying.