The Blue River Murder

The police investigation into the death of a Colorado mother uncovered secrets: a marriage on the brink of collapse, an emotional affair, and a woman concerned for her safety who may have known the name of her killer

Produced by Liza Finley

[This story first aired on March 8. It was updated on Aug. 16.]

"This is a story of a mother of three, a lovely person who loved to dance, who disappeared in a blizzard, in the cold," Officer Theresa Barger told 48 Hours' Tracy Smith. "No leads, no shoeprint in the snow. And it's a puzzle. Where is she?"

When Stephanie Roller went missing in November of 2010, Theresa Barger was still a uniformed police officer. But before it was over, her determination to find out what happened to Stephanie would earn her the title of detective.

"Because she was alone and we couldn't find her, that became my project, that became a passion to find her," said Officer Barger.

Officer Barger helped launch a massive search-and-research effort to find the missing mother of three. Stephanie's husband, Dale Bruner, said he last saw his wife around 10:30 p.m. on Monday night. Twenty-four hours later, there was still no sign of her.

"We called everybody that we can call that we know of. I've got the kids at the house at this point ... Mommy didn't come home. I don't know what to tell the kids ... you can't tell them anything ... you don't know anything yet ... I'm scared," Dale told Smith.

The thought of losing Stephanie was too much to take in, says Dale. He'd been in love with her from the moment he set eyes on Stephanie at a ski resort in Oregon.

"She was wearing sunglasses. And I didn't know what she really looked like at all until she took her sunglasses off. And I was just stunned. I was like, 'Wow, this-- she's beautiful,'" said Dale.

stephanie-dale-bruner-ski.jpg
Stephanie Roller and Dale Bruner
Family photo

They moved together to Silverthorne, Colo., a town near the popular ski resort of Breckinridge. Athletic and adventurous, Stephanie fit right in, says friend Jennifer Voxakis.

"When Stephanie moved to the county, the first thing she wanted to do was dance. And so I was the lucky recipient of that call, because I owned a dance studio," she explained. "We were friends from the very start, from the first word I knew that she was something very special."

Stephanie went to work for the county reviewing home building plans; Dale built a business as a photographer. They eventually married in Fiji and had three children.

"We weren't rich, but we did-- we were doin' OK. We were able to take the vacations to -- Mexico, and Disney World, you know -- every year, and Hawaii-- you know, three or four times in the last few years," Dale told Smith.

"It sounds like an idyllic life," Smith commented.

"Yeah," Dale replied.

But a few months before she disappeared, Dale's best friend, Brad Olivanti, says he watched that idyllic life morph into something unrecognizable.

"I called it the 'perfect storm'. It just seemed like things started going in different direction quickly," said Olivanti.

Stephanie was laid off and Dale's photography business dried up in the tight economy. But that wasn't the worst of it.

Asked what state their marriage was in, Dale told Smith it was a "juggling act."

"Stephanie wanted out," Dale explained. "She said, 'I've fallen out of love with you. I've met someone else. I wanna move on.'"

That someone else was a physical therapist named Ron Holthaus. They met when Stephanie was teaching him to dance for a local benefit called "Dancing with the Mountain Stars."

"Even though there did not appear to be anything physical, emotionally ... they appeared to be very connected with each other," said District Attorney Mark Hurlbert.

Their secret blog, called "Souls Seeking", tells the story of two lovers longing -- but unable because of circumstance --to be together:

I want to be with you my love; My love, my friend, my partner, my soul mate; I miss you very much

"It was definitely a love affair. An affair of the heart," said Barger.

About six months after meeting Holthaus, Stephanie asked Dale for a divorce.

"Were you willing to get divorced?" Smith asked Dale.

"Yes. Absolutely. I wanted Stephanie to be happy," he replied.

"Even if it was with someone else?"

"That's not my choice. I mean, if that's what makes her happy, if being with me wasn't gonna make her happy, why would I want that?" said Dale.

But to police, the combination of jilted husband and missing wife raised a red flag.

"I heard the door ... and ... there were two police officers: One of 'em ... flat out was yellin' at me. He said, 'Did you kill your wife?' And I was just stunned. I'm like, 'What are you talking about?'' Dale told Smith.

Dale wasn't the only one on their radar. Turns out Mr. Holthaus had a Mrs. Holthaus. And despite what he said in those romantic love letters, Ron Holthaus had no intention of leaving his wife. He broke it to Stephanie the day before she disappeared.

"He was trying to break it off with Stephanie?" Smith asked Barger.

"Yes. He said that he ... needed to step back and work on his relationship with his wife," the officer replied.

Holthaus told Barger that Stephanie was so upset, he agreed to meet her in the parking lot where they often came to talk.

"So Stephanie and Ron met here ... about five hours before Stephanie went missing," said Barger.

They parted. But later that night, Officer Barger says, Stephanie was still fixated on getting Ron back. She wrote him an emotional email detailing her love for him:

You are the love of my life. I love you so much

"And at that point," said Barger, "the trail went cold."

Dale told Officer Barger that around 10:30 p.m., Stephanie told him she needed to clear her head. He heard the door shut. And then she walked off into that dark, snowy night.

"I ... began to feel that ... I would find Stephanie, but she wouldn't be alive," said Barger.

SEARCHING FOR STEPHANIE

From the minute Stephanie Roller disappeared, Jennifer Voxakis and her husband, Mike, scoured the county looking for their missing friend.

"It's hard to admit that the worst could happen to you. You don't think it's gonna ever happen to you," said Jennifer Voxakis.

"I searched in the river. I searched under bridges-- covered outlets ... Even dumpsters and that sorta thing," added Mike Voxakis.

"We had to look for her, who knows where she was. It was better than not doing anything at all," said Jennifer.

They went from hotel to hotel. "We took every lead that we could and we explored it," said Jennifer.

They called Stephanie's cell phone countless times hoping she would answer; she never did.

"I was in shock," Jennifer continued.

According to Dale, Stephanie had left that night in a lightweight jacket. She had no purse. No money. No car keys. Only a phone she wasn't answering and a computer she wasn't using.

"What? She took her computer but she didn't take her purse, for a walk in freezing temperatures? That wasn't adding up," said Jennifer.

Though technically still a missing persons case, the Silverthorne Police Department started treating it as a murder investigation.

One of the people officers wanted to talk to was Ron Holthaus, the boyfriend:

Police officer: I just want to ask straight up, again not accusing you, do you know where Stephanie is right now?

Ron Holthaus: I absolutely have no idea.

"He was nervous," Barger told Smith of Holthaus being questioned. "But he was very forthcoming on the information that we had asked."

Ron Holthaus: I was actually trying to tell her that it was over ... And then she said, asked me again one more time, like, "But we can make it work." I said, "No, I - we cannot make this work."

"He appeared to me genuine at that point. But we didn't give up. Because you never know," Barger said of Ron Holthaus.

"[He] could be a really good liar" said Smith.

"Oh, yeah. He could have been," Barger replied.

The search for Stephanie slowed down on Thanksgiving Day, but not for Officer Barger. She kept grinding away. "There was nothing leading me to her and that's not normal, usually there is a trace somewhere," she said.

By that evening, she was at her wits end. It became a horrible evening," Barger continued. "All I kept thinkin' is ... 'we need to locate her.'"

stephanie-roller-searching.jpg
The day after Thanksgiving, four days into the search, Stephanie Roller's bruised and lifeless body was found frozen in the Blue River, a few hundred yards from her house.
Silverthorne, Colo., Police

The next day, Friday, Barger sadly got her wish. Around noon, the frozen body of a woman was found just a few minutes' walk from Stephanie Roller's home under melting snow in the Blue River.

"The majority of her body was submerged," said Agent Greg Sadar with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, who was called in to assist the local police.

"She was lying face up in the water and she was naked with the exception of ... a long-sleeve teal T-shirt was still attached to her right arm," Sadar told Smith.

"That was it?" Smith asked.

"Yes, ma'am," said Sadar.

There was no sign of sexual assault, but the clothes she was reportedly wearing were never found.

"It was very hard to look at her, 'cause I could tell from the pictures it was her. It was the same person that I'd been looking for. And it was very hard. It's - indescribable," said Barger.

"I just was so shocked, I couldn't react, I couldn't react," Jennifer Voxakis said in tears.

"My first thought was, 'what happened to her?' And my second was my kids ... 'Oh my God, my kids have lost their mom,'" Dale told Smith.

"This was a very brutal, brutal murder. She was hit over the head, which caused her skull to break," D.A. Mark Hurlbert said. "She was ... strangled so hard that a bone in her neck broke. ... While still alive ... thrown into the Blue River and left to drown and die of hypothermia."

"How horrible that had to be for her, to be in that, that river and to sit there and not be able to do anything ... She suffered," Barger said. "I had to focus now ... and bring that person to justice. Because she needed that and her children -- her children needed that (chokes up).

One week after Stephanie Roller's battered body was pulled from the icy waters of the Blue River, friends, family and people who had never even met her, gathered in the theatre where she'd once danced to celebrate her life.

"It was very important that we called it a celebration, 'cause that's who Stephanie was," Jennifer said. "She always wanted ... her life to be happy."

"It was a beautiful service," Sadar said. "People are just grief stricken. "

But Agent Sadar wasn't just there to pay his respects. He was there to work. And that meant keeping a close eye on another of his suspects: Dale Bruner.

"As I watched Dale," Sadar continued, "he would look around the room, comfortable and calm. Then, when somebody would walk up to him he would break down crying. No tears. ... And, then, when that person filed away, he'd snap back into just a normal -- demeanor again ... It was one of the oddest behaviors I've ever seen."

But Dale's best friend, Brad Olivanti -- a longtime funeral director -- says there's no accounting for behavior in times of grief. Nevertheless, he suggested it might be time for Dale to lawyer up.

"I kinda had a little chat with him," Olivanti told Smith. "I said, 'Pal -- I don't know if you watch TV' -- and he does -- 'but do you know that -- you know, the husband usually is the person that they're gonna come after in a situation like this when a wife goes missing and is now deceased.'"

Investigators were definitely eyeing Dale, but he wasn't the only one. There were still two others high on their list.

"One was Ron Holthaus, and the other was Cynthia Holthaus," said Hurlbert.

Cynthia Holthaus -- the boyfriend's wife.

"She at one point had said that she wished that Stephanie was dead. And she said this while Stephanie was missing..." said Hurlbert.

Holthaus and his wife Cynthia both took lie detector tests. Barger told "48 Hours" they both failed.

"What did that tell you?" Smith asked.

"We needed to do digging," Barger replied.

NARROWING DOWN THE SUSPECTS

"So this is a bridge where Stephanie used to like to walk?" Smith asked Agent Sadar.

"That's what -- Dale told us, the-- this was one of her favorite places," he replied.

Sadly, the bridge overlooks the stretch of river where Stephanie Roller's body was found. It's a cruel irony that made Agent Sadar all the more determined to find her killer. His strategy?

"...narrow down who would have motive, opportunity, and ability to kill Ms. Bruner," he explained.

In his mind, that came down to three people: the jilted husband, the married boyfriend and the boyfriend's jealous wife.

Investigators believed each one had the motive and the ability to kill Stephanie. They just had to figure out which one had the opportunity, starting with Ron Holthaus.

"Did Ron have an alibi?" Smith asked Barger.

"Yes, his wife," the officer replied.

"So, Ron's alibi was Cynthia and Cynthia's alibi was?"

"Ron. Yes," said Barger.

Husband and wife said they were home together all night and in interview after interview, their stories matched -- something that made Agent Sadar believe them.

"It's -- almost impossible to lie consistently, not only about yourself, but about someone else, and have those lies continue to sync up," Sadar explained.

"You don't think they could have been covering for each other?" Smith asked.

"I found that at that time to be highly unlikely," he replied.

Cynthia didn't even learn about the affair until after Stephanie went missing, says Sadar. He believes she was too angry to lie for her husband:

Police officer: Even though you love him as much as you do and I can tell you love him a lot.

Cynthia Holthaus: Yeah, I love him a lot but no, I wouldn't lie for him. No, because...

Police officer: Even if you knew he was looking at going to prison if he did harm her?

Cynthia Holthaus: You know what, If he's made his bed, he's gonna lay in it.

But what about those lie detector tests? The ones they both failed? Agent Sadar thinks Cynthia's distressed emotional state caused her to fail. As for Ron ...

"I think he was telling us the truth. I think that deep down inside I think he really felt like he was, on some level, responsible for her disappearance," Sadar told Smith.

"He had that guilt that--"

"Absolutely," said Sadar.

Ultimately, Officer Barger focused on another suspect: Dale Bruner. Barger says from day one, Dale's behavior didn't add up.

"He was casual, he was calm about things," she explained. "He did not seem like a person who was looking for his wife."

Jennifer Voxakis was just as perplexed by Dale's demeanor. She got to the house about six hours after Stephanie was reported missing.

"The first thing he did was sat me down at the kitchen table and start complaining about Stephanie, how she didn't keep the house ... and how he did everything for her," Jennifer said. "And in my mind I'm thinking, 'Stephanie's missing. What are we talking about here?'

"And I asked him ... 'what have you done so far?'" she continued. "He had done nothing to help find her.

"'Well, OK, who have you called?' 'Nobody.' Nobody. He called nobody. What would you do if your spouse went missing? Would you sit there and call nobody?"

What's more, he never even left the house to search for her.

"It's human instinct, if you love someone, you go search for them," Smith commented to Dale.

"But where? Just go out and start walking?" he asked Smith.

"Yeah. Canvassing the area," said Smith.

"But I was told ... the police will do that," said Dale.

"It must've taken a remarkable amount of self-control, as a husband who loves his wife, if she's missing, to stay home and not search for her" Smith continued.

"Where am I gonna look?" Dale replied.

The next day, Officer Barger called Dale into the station for questioning. At this point his wife had been missing almost two days, yet he still seemed unconcerned.

"I walked in. There he was, asleep. Dale was asleep in the chair," Barged said. "I was speechless. I really didn't know what else to think. I mean he was sleeping right there, sleeping in the chair. And we're still looking of her."

During most of the interview, Barger says, he was eerily calm and relaxed:

Dale Bruner: What if she just comes home? I don't wanna worry her parents. What if this is just silly?

Officer Barger: Right.

Dale Bruner: And I don't want to give the parents a heart attack just by some stupid information.

Barger says she will never forget the look in those eyes.

"You know how you can tell if somebody isn't genuine? Their eyes. They look different," Barger told Smith. "They look like there's nothing behind them. There's no care, there's no love. There's nothing behind them."

Dale says he keeps his emotions in check for a reason.

"I could just fall on the floor and just start crying. I mean -- and then I don't know if I'll be able to get up," said Dale.

"So instead --"

"Instead I do this and I hold on. And so that's -- that's counted as insincere, 'cause I don't know if I'll stop," Dale continued.

"Stop crying?" Smith asked.

"Yeah," he replied

Investigators might have been able to overlook some of Dale Bruner's weird behavior, but they couldn't overlook his timeline. Dale told the police that Stephanie left for her walk on that bitterly cold night between 10 and 10:30 p.m. He didn't report her missing until 8:45 a.m. the next morning, he said, to give her "space."

"I didn't know where she went. I -- half-worried, half, 'Is she with the boyfriend? Is she not? If she needs her space.' Whatever she's doing, I don't know," Dale told Smith. "The last thing I wanted to do was badger her."

"When did you start to worry?" Smith asked.

"The morning. I mean, I worried that night, late. But I'm like, 'You know, sh -- she's a big girl," he replied.

"Why do you think he waited 11 hours to call police? Smith asked Hurlbert.

"He waited 11 hours because he was -- he was gettin' rid of evidence," he replied.

"When you realized that Dale Bruner was your prime suspect ... were you concerned for the kids?" Smith asked Sadar.

"Absolutely," he replied. "Without her there to protect 'em, we were very worried about the kids."

The day after their mother's memorial, children's services swept in and removed the children from their home. They were sent to live with Stephanie's family.

At this point Brad Olivanti confronted his friend.

"I asked my best friend and looked at him in the eye and said 'Did you have anything to do with this?' And he looked me straight in the eye and said, 'No,'" said Olivanti.

But authorities were learning that Dale was a master at hiding the truth. They began to uncover deep secrets in his past which gave them enough ammunition to arrest him. Eight months after Stephanie Roller's death, Dale Bruner was indicted for the murder of his wife.

"We got' em," Barger said. "We are gonna get justice for Stephanie."

THE TRIAL OF DALE BRUNER

District Attorney Mark Hurlbert was sure he had the right guy. But he knew he had his work cut out for him.

"The biggest challenge is that we have no direct evidence. I mean, this was a circumstantial evidence case," said Hurlbert.

Dale Bruner, released on bond, remained adamant that he was innocent. So adamant he rejected a deal of 24 years in exchange for a guilty plea.

"I'm going, 'Dude, you might want to think about that.' And he was adamant. He goes ... I am not going to admit to a crime that I did not do," said Brad Olivanti.

Instead, he chose to take his chances in court. In July 2012, a year and 8 months after the slaying of Stephanie Roller, Dale Bruner went on trial for her murder.

dale-bruner-court.jpg
Dale Bruner during his trial for the murder of his wife
CBS News

"We were hoping to prove that Dale Bruner hit Stephanie over the head with some blunt force object, strangled her, carried her body in the snow to the Blue River and threw her body in the river," District Attorney Mark Hurlbert told Smith.

Dale's defense attorney, Rob Bernhardt, zeroes in on the lack of direct evidence, hoping to show reasonable doubt.

"What we know is that they didn't find anything. Nothing. Not one footprint. Not one track. Not one fingerprint," said Bernhardt.

"I've never seen him do a violent thing in my life," Brad Olivanti said. "This guy is just a mellow, grounded, nice, good guy. He's a good guy. Everyone that knows him loves him."

"Dale had us all pretty well fooled, you know. He was very kind and nice and, you know -- almost too nice. So, I would say, 'Beware of that too nice,'" said Jennifer.

Jennifer says it wasn't until the last month of her life that Stephanie finally opened up about the other side of Dale Bruner -- the dark side.

"She finally got the courage to tell me what was going on in her life," she said.

Stephanie told her Dale had been violent with her in the past, even during her first pregnancy.

"He had gotten angry somehow. And threw her on their bed and put his knee on her stomach, on her belly and threatened her," Jennifer told Smith.

Dale promised he would get help and she decided to stay. But she never forgot.

"She warned me that if she were to get hurt, he did it," said Jennifer.

It turns out, Stephanie wasn't the only woman to have experienced Dale Bruner's fury.

Theresa Barger got a call on the tip line from an old girlfriend of Dale's.

"What was the specific thing that she said that you went, 'Uh oh?'" Smith asked Barger.

"He killed Stephanie. He had to have killed Stephanie, 'cause this is what he did to me," she replied.

Jodi Eberhart was in her 20s and living with Dale Bruner in the early 90s when she says the mask came off. He'd come home late ...and she accused him of being out with another girl.

"He pushed me down onto the carpet, and put his hands around my neck, and said, ' If you ever say or do that again, I'll kill you.' He was actually physically holding me down on the floor," said Eberhart.

"With his hand around your neck," said Smith.

"With both hands around my neck ... yeah. It all happened so fast I never saw it coming," she said.

In a huge win for the prosecution, the judge allowed Jodi Eberhart and another woman with a similar story to testify at trial.

"Do you think it could have been you in that river?" Smith asked Eberhart.

"Had I stayed with him, it could have been, uh-huh," she affirmed.

For Stephanie, with three little kids, leaving was a daunting prospect. But six weeks before she was killed, Stephanie came home to find Dale angrily striking their son for refusing to listen. That was it.

"She said, quote-unquote, 'He can do anything he wants to me, but when he starts hurting my kids that's where I draw a line in the sand,'" said Jennifer.

Stephanie immediately filed a restraining order forbidding Dale to come near her or the children. A recording of the hearing was played in court. The room fell silent as Stephanie spoke from the grave about Dale's history of abuse:

Stephanie Roller: I can't go back to him. He has threatened my life years ago but, you know, with a hand on my throat. Didn't squeeze it. Screaming in my face, "I will kill you if you leave."

"It was incredibly powerful -- to hear that 'cause you don't hear that in murder cases," Hurlbert told Smith.

Stephanie Roller: As soon as he finds out from social services that I've entered the system... I'm going to run with my kids. I mean I don't know what he's going to do.

"You were painted as a violent husband. Are you violent?" Smith asked Dale.

"Absolutely not," he replied.

"Did you ever threaten Stephanie?"

"Never, ever..." said Dale.

"She testified at the restraining order hearing, you threatened to kill her," Smith noted.

"I can only think that was about custody of the children. That's a guess," said Dale.

"But they're all lies?"

"Absolutely," he replied.

"Here's the thing," Smith continued. "I guess it might be more believable to think that Stephanie was lying if she didn't end up dead. But you hear all of these stories about how she says you threatened to kill her, that -- you were a violent man, and then she ends up dead.

"Right," Dale said. "It's horrible, isn't it?"

In the weeks leading up to her death, Stephanie's behavior became more erratic. First, for reasons only Stephanie knows, she rescinded the restraining order.

"I think she rescinded the restraining order cause she was afraid of him ... afraid what he could do to her," said Barger.

So she let him come home. Then, two days before she was killed, she packed up the kids and tried to get away again. But within hours, Stephanie and the kids were back home with Dale.

"It seems to me that in her most desperate hour ... when she realized she couldn't afford what she was trying to do, it must have been so hard for her to actually go back," said Jennifer.

Why Stephanie didn't knock on her door instead of going back to Dale is a question that haunts Jennifer to this day.

"You would not believe the guilt, the remorse ... what ifs all the time. What if ... and I understand it's not my fault. ... It's a situation, where she was a victim and victims don't always see clearly or think clearly," she said.

The day after moving home, Stephanie made a decision that may have cost her her life. Remember that email she was writing to her boyfriend, Ron, the night she disappeared? Well, that email became the smoking gun of the prosecution's case.

"This last email that Stephanie wrote is very frank with Ron," Smith noted. "'I love you so much. You're the love of my life.' But then there's no closing."

"Yes," said Hurlbert.

"What happened?" Smith asked.

"It was never sent. Even though we were never able to find her computer, we were able to go to the internet company and find out that this email was never sent," Hulbert replied.

Hurlbert thinks Dale saw that email, flew into a rage, hit her over the head -- possibly with the computer they never found -- and then strangled her.

"Did you see the email she was writing that night and then strike her?" Smith asked Dale.

"Absolutely not," he replied.

"Did you strangle her?" Smith asked.

"Absolutely not," said Dale.

"Did you kill Stephanie, Dale?" Smith continued.

"Absolutely not. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I absolutely had nothing to do with her death," said Dale.

Asked if she's 100 percent sure it was Dale, Officer Barger told Smith, "Yeah ... No doubts."

After a two week trial, both sides rest. It is now up to a jury to decide who to believe: Stephanie Roller or Dale Bruner.

JUSTICE FOR STEPHANIE ROLLER

Jennifer Voxakis had walked the entire journey alongside her dearest friend, Stephanie Roller. She danced with her. She searched for her. And she confronted Dale Bruner in court for her.

"There I was, as close as you and I are, to Dale, telling people that he murdered his wife ... Knowing full well that this could ruin him," Jennifer told Smith. "And I had no problem ... saying that, 'cause it's the truth."

But waiting in that courthouse for the jury to come back was something she couldn't do.

"That was the worst time. That was so awful. I was crawling out of my skin," she said.

So, Jennifer got in her car and drove, stopping by the side of the road next to an osprey nest and waited.

It didn't take long. After only four hours of deliberation the verdict was in.

Judge Thompson: We, the jury, find the defendant Dale Bruner guilty of murder in the second degree.

Guilty on all six counts -- from murder to assault, to tampering with evidence.

Jennifer got the news on her cell phone.

"And I'm watching these birds thinking, 'How appropriate is this?' Because Stephanie was such a nature lover," Jennifer observed. "That I'm in this beautiful place watching these osprey getting the call that, yes, the jury found Dale guilty of all counts ... you think I would have been ecstatic and super-happy, but it was probably one of the worst moments, just to know that Stephanie's gone and that, yes, Dale's guilty and that's great, but that doesn't bring Stephanie back."

For Officer Theresa Barger, it was a bittersweet victory for a woman she never knew, but whose voice, she vowed, would not be silenced.

"All I could think of is," said Barger, "I hope that we have justice for you, and that she can rest in peace."

Two months later, Stephanie's family and friends gathered in the courtroom for the last time for the sentencing. One by one, they stood before Judge Thompson and before Dale Bruner in his prison stripes to describe the impact of Stephanie's murder on their lives.

Even the man who'd stood by Dale Bruner through it all was beginning to question his friend's claim of innocence.

"The bottom line is someone did this to her. I hope it's not him. If it is, I would like to know the truth," said Brad Olivanti.

"Was this a horrible accident where you guys got into a fight and you didn't mean to kill her, Dale, but you hurt her?" Smith asked.

"No. You can ask it a thousand ways and it's -- the same answer," Dale replied.

Someday he may face that question again from three other victims in this story -- his children.

"If, at some point, they come to you ... and say, 'Dad, what happened?' ... 'Did you kill our mom?'" Smith asked.

"I'll tell them the truth. I've never lied to my kids," said Dale.

"And you can look in your children's eyes ... and say -"

"I've never hurt your mom," said Dale.

Clearly, Judge Thompson believed otherwise. "You took Ms. Roller's life. You took your children's mother ... and you did it without remorse and in a brutal fashion," he said.

The judge sentenced Dale Bruner to 112 years in prison.

"Mr. Bruner, I can only hope that you will come to realize the magnitude of your actions. Court's adjourned," said Judge Thompson.

Last fall, a room in a local safe house was dedicated to Stephanie Roller -- a reminder of the beautiful woman they lost, but also of all the women still to be saved.

"These bad things can't be kept in the dark closet anymore. This happens. And you know what? It happens in your neighborhood. It could be your neighbor and you don't even know it. It was my best friend and I didn't even know it. Right under my nose, she was murdered," said Jennifer. "So, if you're a woman and you have these worst fears, man, run. Run fast and stay gone."

Dale Bruner will be eligible for parole in 2071. He would be 109 years old.

Domestic Violence Resources

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

Summit County, Colo. Advocates for Victims

Battered Women: Why they don't leave

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