CRIPPLE CREEK – Testimony in the trial of a Colorado rancher accused of beating his fiancee to death with a baseball bat wrapped up Friday with allegations from a jail inmate who said he was asked to kill the key witness in the case, a claim that defense attorneys called into question.
Prosecutors have leaned on explosive testimony to build their case against Patrick Frazee, including from a former Idaho nurse he was having an affair with who has described helping clean up blood and watching him burn a bag she believed contained Kelsey Berreth’s body.
Berreth’s remains haven’t been found nearly a year after she disappeared on Thanksgiving, and there’s little physical evidence in the case. Prosecutors have not provided a motive for the killing. Defense attorneys have called into question the credibility of the on-and-off girlfriend, Krystal Lee, and the jail inmate.
Frazee declined to testify, and his lawyers didn’t call any witnesses of their own. Closing arguments had been expected to follow the end of testimony, but lawyers and the judge still need to work out jury instructions. They are now scheduled for Monday, and the jury will start deliberating afterward.
On Friday, former Denver detective Jonathyn Priest said Berreth was likely struck 15 or more times with the bat, leaving drops of blood splattered around her townhome. Her father leaned forward and cried as Priest testified.
Prosecutors say the couple’s 1-year-old daughter was in a nearby room when her mother was killed.
Inmate Jacob Bentley testified that Frazee asked him multiple times to kill Lee, her relatives, the lead investigator in the case, Gregg Slater and others while the two were housed near each other in jail.
Slater testified that Bentley provided notes with the requests and details about finding Lee that appeared to be in Frazee’s handwriting.
Frazee’s lawyer, Adam Steigerwald, questioned Bentley’s credibility. He said Bentley was expected to testify in another case that a defendant also had asked him to kill a witness.
Bentley, who said he told Frazee he was part of a prison gang, asserted that he was not promised anything in exchange for his testimony. However, prosecutor Beth Reed said Bentley had asked for cases against him to be resolved in one county.
Berreth, a 29-year-old flight instructor, was last seen shopping with the couple’s daughter last Thanksgiving.
The defense has focused on the lack of a body, motive and murder weapon. They also point out that surveillance video showing Frazee entering and leaving Berreth’s home on the day that prosecutors say she was killed has him wearing the same clothes without any blood stains.
Lee, who has known Frazee for more than a decade, acknowledged taking Berreth’s cellphone with her to Idaho at Frazee’s request to try to deceive investigators about Berreth’s whereabouts. She reached a plea deal with prosecutors for tampering with evidence and faces up to three years in prison.
Frazee’s lawyers stressed that she only spoke about what happened after reaching a deal and questioned her credibility because she initially told authorities she did not know who Berreth was.
A partial human tooth was found on Frazee’s property where Lee says she watched him burn a plastic tote containing Berreth’s body. There was not enough DNA to determine whom the tooth belonged to.
An expert testified that the burned plastic residue found next to a spot of oily dirt was consistent with a body being burned but acknowledged that motor oil could have also left a similar stain.
Defense attorneys said no DNA evidence tied to Lee was found at Berreth’s home. Colorado Bureau of Investigation analyst Caitlin Rogers said that did not surprise her because the bleach that Lee said she used to clean up destroys DNA.
While prosecutors have not given a motive, Berreth’s parents argue in a wrongful-death lawsuit that they believe Frazee wanted full custody of the couple’s daughter. She now lives with them.