Vail Valley murder trial for Catherine Kelly slaying scheduled near Halloween | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley murder trial for Catherine Kelly slaying scheduled near Halloween

Leigha Ackerson faces eight felony charges for allegedly murdering Kelley, 74, in Jan. 2018

Leigha Ackerson's murder trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 29. She and husband Jacob White are accused of murdering Catherine Kelley in Kelley's Pilgrim Downs home. White pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 68 years in prison.
Daily file photo

EAGLE — An accused murderer’s trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 29 and is expected to last three weeks.

Leigha Ackerson claims she’s not guilty of murdering Catherine Kelley and will have the opportunity to prove it when the trial begins two days before Halloween.

Ackerson pleaded not guilty last July. She stands accused of strangling Kelley to death and also planning and conspiring ahead of time to commit the murder. She faces eight felony charges for allegedly murdering Kelley, 74, while she and husband Jacob White were robbing Kelley’s Pilgrim Downs home on Jan. 24, 2018. If Ackerson is convicted, Colorado law requires her to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Ackerson is charged with:

  • 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 intent to kill, maim or wound
  • Conspiracy to commit burglary 1 and assault
  • Tampering with physical evidence

White admitted he helped strangle Kelley to death. He was sentenced to 68 years in prison last September. Kelley’s family objected to the sentence, saying they wanted him to spend life in prison without parole.

White will be eligible for parole after 51 years in prison. At that date he will be one year older than Kelley was when he killed her.

Mental health evaluation

Ackerson was sent to the state prison system’s psychiatric facility in Pueblo two weeks ago for an outpatient interview. The interview took a half a day, said her attorney Amber St. Clair.

The report was not yet available for this week’s hearing for St. Clair or Chief Deputy District Attorney Joe Kirwan or Deputy District Attorney Johnny Lombardi.

“My gut tells me we’re going to get something any time,” St. Clair said.

It could be later this month before they have the evaluation, Chief Deputy District Attorney Joe Kirwan said.

Ackerson sat quietly in the jury box. St. Clair, her attorney, appeared by phone, something Judge Dunkelman permitted because of Wednesday’s road conditions.

The prosecution and the defense teams will be back before Judge Dunkelman on June 12 to review the findings of Ackerman’s psychiatric evaluation.

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. Ackerson and White are charged with breaking into Kelley’s home, robbing it and killing her in January 2018.

White and White?

Kelley’s alleged murderers were both born in Maryland, according to court documents, and listed their home address as 124 Kircaldy Dr., Elkton, Maryland.

They say they were married Nov. 9, 2013, according to their social media posts.

In 2015, the two moved to Denver from Newark, Delaware, according to Ackerson’s social media posts.

What is known so far

White and Ackerson apparently hired an Uber as their getaway car, according to their arrest affidavit. A Pilgrim Downs property manager spotted the 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 property manager also saw lights on in Kelley’s home at a time of night when they normally would not be, according to the arrest affidavit.

The property manager knocked on 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. There is limited cell service in that area.

Deputies arrived moments later and found a window broken on the ground level, along with other signs of forced 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 and strewn around the property.

Searchers quickly found White and Ackerson, and the dog they brought with them, about 400 yards from Kelley’s home, shivering and cold in that night’s single-digit temperatures.