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Owners of Penrose funeral home set to have separate trials due to conflicting defenses

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) - On Thursday a judge ruled that Jon and Carie Hallford, the owners of the Return to Nature funeral home, will be put on separate trials for their alleged roles in leaving nearly 200 bodies to decompose in a building in Penrose.

The Hallfords appeared for their arraignment on Thursday, June 6, to give their plea of guilty, or not guilty before a judge. It came after those pleas were put off from the couple's original arraignment date in late March.

Carie Hallford arrived at the courthouse Thursday morning on her own, while her husband Jon has been held in federal custody for the federal wire fraud charges they both face and was brought down from a prison in Englewood.

It's unknown where Carie entered the courthouse, as KRDO13 crews did not see her enter the security check-in at the front of the courthouse, nor is it known where she exited the courthouse.

Before either council could state their pleas on Thursday, the judge stated that the husband and wife would be put on separate trials. He explained that despite Jon's council asking for the trial to be done with his wife, Carie's defense would be "antagonistic" towards Jon's defense, citing case law.

The case the judge referenced was The People v. Gutierrez, which occurred in Colorado in 2021. You can read the explanation of that case here, which lays out the logic that the judge is using for his concerns in the Hallfords case.

It was the decision to put the two on separate trials, that gives some hints toward a divide of sorts between how the couple are trying to go about their defense of the 260-plus felony charges that they face.

It remains to be seen whether the number of charges the husband and wife face will increase before the trial commences, as KRDO13 has confirmed the District Attorney's office recently filed 26 new charges against the Hallfords, including 24 counts of forgery, one new county of abuse of a corpse, and one new count of theft.

The defense and prosecution then discussed with the judge when the trial dates should be set for Jon and Carie. The couple were tentatively set in March to have their trial begin in October. However, the two are also facing over a dozen federal wire fraud charges, which recently moved its trial dates to October.

Due to the overlap, the 4th Judicial District Attorney's office conceded that Jon and Carie cannot miss a federal court date, and so they must reschedule.

As a result, Carie's attorney said the only time he can fit in a trial is January. The judge took this into account, however a date was not set.

Several families whose loved ones were left to decompose in the Return to Nature funeral home, were present in court Thursday, as they have been persistently for months. They said they left the courtroom frustrated and emotional, after yet another delay in the court proceedings.

This week the investigation entered its 8th month. KRDO13 has learned it has cost the state of Colorado and Fremont County at least $1.3 million dollars.

Those families, like Angelika Stedman whose daughter has yet to be identified in the investigation, says that a rift between the couple was an interesting twist, but she still finds both Carie and Jon equally as guilty for what they did.

"I think they were in this thing together wholeheartedly... I hope she doesn't get away with putting the blame just on him," said Stedman.

Heather DeWolf, whose son was also sent to be cremated by Return to Nature, but has yet to be identified by a coroner in the investigation, said the delay for the trial yet again felt defeating.

"For me personally, I've got no answers. You know, it's it's like the movie Groundhog Day, you know? And every time we're here, it's like the same thing over again. You know, the same feelings get brought up. The stress, the trauma, all of that all over again. All over again." explained DeWolf.

Jon and Carie are due back in court for a hearing on July 11, 2024.

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Tyler Cunnington

Tyler is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about him here.


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