Vail Valley trial for murder suspect Leigha Ackerson postponed again
Catherine Kelley’s accused murderer now scheduled to stand trial in May
EAGLE — An accused murderer’s trial was postponed until May so attorneys can argue whether a jury will see DNA evidence, how much, and what that might mean.
Leigha Ackerson’s defense attorneys, Amber St. Clair and Jennifer Melton, asked to postpone the Jan. 6 trial so their expert has sufficient time to analyze DNA evidence.
Ackerson is charged with murder in the death of Catherine Kelley in Kelley’s Pilgrim Downs home near Edwards.
Ackerson is charged with first-degree murder. She is accused of helping her husband, Jacob White, who pleaded guilty to breaking into Catherine Kelley’s Pilgrim Downs home before robbing and murdering Kelley.
Ackerson has pleaded not guilty to eight felonies, including first-degree murder. If she’s convicted, she will go to prison for life.
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An all-day hearing about DNA evidence began Friday morning but did not finish. District Court Judge Paul Dunkelman scheduled the remainder of the hearing for March 6.
Ackerson’s three-week trial was postponed once already and was supposed to begin in January. It’s now scheduled to begin May 12.
DNA evidence reliable or not?
During Friday’s hearing, St. Clair asserted that DNA analysis is not as reliable as people might believe. In fact, the analysis is flawed, she said.
St. Clair said the notion of DNA information being absolute is called, “The Prosecutors’ Fallacy.”
In questioning DNA expert Dr. John Buckleton, Assistant District Attorney Heidi McCollum argued that across the country, DNA evidence is widely accepted, especially when juries view it with other evidence.
It’s a mathematic equation, and the math indicates that DNA evidence is reliable and that “fact finders” should consider it in combination with other evidence, Buckleton said.
Ackerson a victim of abuse?
St. Clair and Melton say their client has suffered a lifetime of domestic abuse and that Ackerson may have been under duress and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder when Kelley was killed.
Melton and St. Clair said Ackerson was raised in a fundamentalist Christian household and was home-schooled. That created a sense of isolation in the young woman.
When she married White, the abuse continued, St. Clair said.
“She essentially went from one abusive relationship to another,” St. Clair said.
St. Clair and Melton asserted that Ackerson was a domestic violence victim. She became a battered spouse after she married White and the abuse escalated.
Ackerson’s mental condition led to her compliance in entering Kelley’s home, and to “be susceptible to him,” St. Clair said.
White pleaded guilty
White admitted that he helped kill Kelley in her Pilgrim Downs home. He will spend 68 years in prison, although Kelley’s family argued passionately that it’s not enough and that White deserves a life sentence.
White pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and burglary, telling Judge Dunkelman and Kelley’s family members that he “hates” what he did and that he had been ingesting cannabis. He was sentenced to 68 years in prison. Because he’s guilty of crimes of violence, he must serve at least 75 percent of his sentence. That means he will not be eligible for parole for 51 years.