Murder suspects bound over to stand trial on 1st-degree murder charges
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The three suspects arrested in connection with the death of Elliot Stahl will stand trial on first-degree murder charges, and they will continue to be held without bond. Judge Michael O’Hara issued the ruling Friday, Jan. 17, at the conclusion of a four-day preliminary hearing.
The three defendants — William C. Ellifritz, 26; Brooke L. Forquer, 21; and Skyla M. Piccolo-Laabs, 23, all Craig residents — face separate trials on charges of first-degree murder after deliberation, first-degree felony murder, aggravated robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery.
The “heart of the case,” said Deputy District Attorney Alexandra Jennings after all evidence had been presented, is the fact that “Elliot Stahl, 26 years old, is no longer here.”
Much of Friday’s hearing focused on the two charges related to robbery, which prosecutor Jennings argued was a motivating factor in Stahl’s murder.
“They knew Stahl had money,” Jennings argued. “They knew they weren’t going to Denver. They knew they were going to take the money and leave him [Stahl] in Steamboat, at best. When that plan didn’t work, they resorted to murder.”
Stahl’s wallet, its content and his cellphone were never recovered. Nor was the knife believed to be the murder weapon.
“Stahl was going around looking for a ride to Denver, and the purpose for the ride to Denver was a drug run,” Jennings said
According to testimony, Forquer agreed to drive Stahl to Denver in her car for $100 in the early morning hours of Oct. 13, 2019. She and Stahl were accompanied in the car by Piccolo-Laabs and Ellifritz. Forquer received the $100 before they left Craig, according to investigators.
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.
But it was their plan to trick Stahl, Jennings said, arguing the three defendants were in agreement they were never actually going to take Stahl to Denver. And it was once Stahl learned of this deception that it “upset him and instigated the altercation” that ultimately led to his death, she said.
“Rather than go to the hospital or get any help (after the stabbing), they decided to take him to a remote location in Routt County and unceremoniously dump his body on the side of the road,” Jennings said.
O’Hara was asked to consider an argument of duress for Forquer and Piccolo-Laabs, based on their assertions that they were threatened and forced into cooperating by Ellifritz.
But O’Hara said several facts led the court to conclude they were not “unable to get away from him.”
Forquer’s defense attorney Erin Wilson argued that Forquer was not complicit because she would have had to have known Ellifritz planned to commit the crime of murder.
“There is quite honestly no evidence Ms. Forquer or Ms. Piccolo-Laabs knew if Mr. Stahl had any money. And if he did, how much,” Wilson argued.
Ellifritz’s defense team argued the statements from Forquer and Piccolo-Laabs contained lies and inconsistencies, and they said the women were motivated by self-preservation.
The court acknowledged numerous lies in both Forquer’s and Piccolo-Laabs’ statements, O’Hara said, but the court also determined parts of their statements to be true.
Marshall Breit, the attorney representing Piccolo-Laabs, argued that Piccolo–Laabs didn’t share any of Ellifritz’s intent to commit a crime. He said there was no evidence Piccolo-Laabs had “any idea what Mr. Ellifritz intended to do.”
Whether or not any of the defendants had prior intention to harm Stahl, O’Hara said once Stahl was injured, they didn’t try to get him help.
“The court finds the death of Mr. Stahl was facilitated by the acts and omissions of Forquer and Piccolo-Laabs, which resulted in the death of Mr. Stahl,” O’Hara said.
Both women admitted to stabbing Stahl at the direction of Ellifritz, noted O’Hara, and it isn’t known exactly how those wounds contributed, or didn’t contribute, to his death. The coroner was not able to establish a time of death, O’Hara said, and was not able to estimate how long Stahl lived after sustaining the fatal wound, allegedly inflicted by Ellifritz.
O’Hara acknowledged the sequence of events did not fit neatly into “a classic example of robbery” that entails a person using force to demand possessions from a victim; however, O’Hara disagreed with the defense attorneys’ reasoning that a robbery did not happen.
Ellifritz is scheduled for arraignment Jan. 23, while Forquer and Piccolo-Laabs will be arraigned March 13.
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