‘It wasn’t supposed to happen:’ Testimony in Routt County murder case hearing focuses on confessions
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The latest round of testimony in a preliminary hearing for the three suspects arrested for murder in connection with the death of Elliot Stahl centered around law enforcement interviews with two of the three murder suspects.
Hearings for the three defendants — William C. Ellifritz, 26; Brooke L. Forquer, 21; and Skyla M. Piccolo-Laabs, 23, all Craig residents, began last week.
On Thursday, Detective Doug Winters, chief investigator with the 14th Judicial District, testified about interviews he conducted with Forquer and Piccolo-Laabs amid the investigation into Stahl’s death.
On Oct. 19, 2019, Winters questioned Forquer at the Moffat County Public Safety Center. During that interview, Forquer alleged that Ellifritz stabbed Stahl on Oct. 13 as the four were driving up Rabbit Ears Pass.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen,” she told Winters. “I didn’t know Will (Ellifritz) was going to do that.”
Forquer’s defense attorney, Erin Wilson, showed video footage of a separate interview conducted with Winters and Colorado Bureau of Investigation Agent Brooks Bennett, in which Piccolo-Laabs reenacted the alleged murder. In the video, Piccolo-Laabs sits in the driver-side passenger seat, where Ellifritz allegedly was sitting when Stahl was stabbed. Then Piccolo-Laabs, acting as Ellifritz, rises out of the seat and depicts stabbing Stahl in the neck with her left hand. She said an altercation ensued between the two men, and Ellifritz at one point kicked Stahl in the face.
Following the altercation, Piccolo-Laabs said she saw Stahl slump forward, not moving, in the passenger seat.
According to previous testimony from Detective Tom Munden with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office, a fisherman found Stahl’s body around 10:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, near the Flat Tops Wilderness Area south of Yampa. It appeared that Stahl had been killed elsewhere and his body was placed on a two-track road just off Forest Service Road 907 and Routt County Road 7, according to Munden.
Oct. 13, 2019: Murder suspects Skyla M. Piccolo-Laabs and Brooke L. Forquer admit leaving Elliot Stahl’s body at a location near U.S. Forest Service Road 907 and Routt County Road 7 about 8.5 miles south of Yampa on the way to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
Oct. 14, 2019: A fisherman discovers Stahl’s body at around 10:30 a.m. The Routt County Sheriff’s Office responds to the scene and secures the area.
Oct. 15, 2019: Colorado Bureau of Investigation processes the body and the crime scene. That afternoon, an autopsy is performed by forensic pathologist Dr. Michael A. Burson in Loveland.
Oct. 17, 2019: Sheriff identifies the victim as 26-year-old Elliot Stahl, of Steamboat Springs, believes death to be a homicide.
Oct. 19, 2019: Piccolo-Laabs, 23, William C. Ellifritz, 26, and Forquer, 21, all from Craig, are arrested on one count each of first-degree murder and booked into the Routt County Jail around 11:40 p.m.
Oct. 21, 2019: 14th Judicial District Judge Shelley Hill rules the three suspects are to be held without bond.
Oct. 25, 2019: The three suspects are officially charged by District Attorney Matt Karzen on one count of murder in the first degree, a Class 1 felony, along with one count of aggravated robbery, a Class 3 felony, and one count of conspiracy to commit robbery, a Class 5 felony. They also were charged with one count of abuse of a corpse, a misdemeanor.
Jan. 6, 2020: First day of combined preliminary hearing and proof evident hearing for the three defendants in Routt County Court.
Jan. 7 and 16: Preliminary hearing continues.
Jan. 17: Preliminary hearing concludes. Skyla M. Piccolo-Laabs, William C. Ellifritz and Brooke L. Forquer are denied bond by 14th Judicial District Chief Judge Michael O’Hara. The original charges stand and the case will now move on to three individual trials.
An autopsy report listed Stahl’s cause of death as exsanguination — loss of blood — due to a stab wound to the neck and the manner of death as homicide, according to testimony from Detective TJ Sisto with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office. He said the fatal stab wound was to the lower left side of Stahl’s neck, measuring 7 centimeters, or 2.76 inches, deep.
There were five additional stab wounds to Stahl’s body, according to Sisto, including a small puncture wound on the left cheek, a stab wound between the left shoulder and pectoral muscle and two wounds near the base of the neck.
These wounds were consistent with statements Forquer and Piccolo-Laabs made to law enforcement. They both said Ellifritz stabbed Stahl in the neck, then forced the two women to also stab Stahl with the same knife.
Kyomi Bolick, Ellifritz’s defense attorney, played almost two hours worth of audio featuring an interview between Sisto and Piccolo-Laabs a week after Stahl’s body was found.
During that interview, Piccolo-Laabs described a love triangle between her, Forquer and Ellifritz. The two women had identified themselves as being a married couple on social media, and they were living together. She described having recent relationship problems with Forquer.
“We are going through a couple situation,” Piccolo-Laabs said of her relationship with Forquer. “We aren’t on good terms right now.”
She said the reason for the relationship problems arose from her romantic involvement with Ellifritz. She also said Forquer had cheated on her in the past.
During that same interview, Piccolo-Laabs initially denied any involvement in Stahl’s death. She also denies Ellifritz was involved with Stahl’s death.
Sisto pointed out several inconsistencies in her narrative, after which Piccolo-Laabs bursts into tears.
“You’ve been lying to me all morning,” he told her. “We have witnesses, we have your DNA in the car, blood right next to it.”
He alluded to the possibility Piccolo-Laabs was protecting Ellifritz due to their relationship.
“I know you love Will, and he’s being good to you, but it’s time to start telling me what happened,” Sisto told her.
Questions over money
In the interview with Sisto, Piccolo-Laabs said Stahl owed multiple people “a bunch of money” but did not specify to whom or how much.
In interviews with law enforcement officials, the three suspects said they agreed to give Stahl a ride to Denver for $100. The four left from Craig together in Forquer’s vehicle. Piccolo-Laabs said the plan was only to take him as far as Steamboat.
“I knew we weren’t going to Denver. Elliot knew that, too” she said.
Stahl already had given Forquer the $100, according to interviews. She and Piccolo-Laabs said they did not know if Stahl had any more money on him at the time. Forquer told law enforcement she suspected Ellifritz thought Stahl had more money in his possession at the time of the alleged stabbing.
The case is being prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Alexandra Jennings and District Attorney Matt Karzen. Judge Michael O’Hara is presiding over the proceedings, which are scheduled to resume Friday, Jan. 17.
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