Pagosa Springs cold case murder suspect granted new trial

Vickie Dexter found dead in a pool in 1988, suspect arrested 24 years later

A truck driver from Lamar who was convicted for the 1988 murder of a Pagosa Springs woman and sentenced to 46 years in prison was granted a retrial by a state appeals court Wednesday.

The Colorado State Court of Appeals said evidence was used improperly during the 2013 trial for Charles Ray Stane and contributed to “substantially influencing the verdict or impairing the fairness of the trial.”

The appeals court reversed Stane’s conviction and set a new trial.

In 2012, authorities arrested Stane and charged him with first-degree murder in connection with the then 24-year-old cold case, in which Vickie Dexter, then 40, was found dead in a hot spring pool in Pagosa Springs.

According to previous reports, authorities had identified Stane as a prime suspect days after the murder, which occurred during the night of Oct. 14-15, 1988. But at the time, there was not enough evidence to make an arrest.

However, advances in forensic testing allowed authorities to resubmit DNA evidence in 2011, which tied Stane to the murder. He was ultimately found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 46 years in prison in January 2014.

It is unclear when Stane, now 62, will stand retrial. Calls to 6th Judicial District Attorney Christian Champagne, as well as Stane’s attorney, John Moran, a public defense lawyer, were not returned Wednesday.

According to Colorado records, Stane remains in Sterling Correctional Facility, about a two-hour drive northeast of Denver.

According to the appeals court decision, the prosecution’s emphasis during the trial on Stane’s past sexual assault convictions “enticed the jury to render a decision on an improper basis” for the murder trial.

On the morning of Oct. 15, 1988, a group of tourists found Dexter’s naked body facedown in a popular hot spring used by locals in downtown Pagosa Springs. The hot spring has since been filled in.

An autopsy revealed she had been severely beaten around her head and clumps of hair had been ripped from her head. A final cause of death was determined to be strangulation.

The night before Dexter’s body was found, Stane, who was drinking with fellow truck drivers at a bar in Pagosa Springs, met Dexter, who was out with a couple of friends.

According to reports, the two groups started socializing. Witnesses recalled Dexter teased Stane, calling him “fat boy.” Embarrassed, he eventually left the bar but returned later and shared a beer with Dexter in a booth.

The two were seen leaving together about 1:45 a.m. When police interviewed Stane four days after the murder, he denied going anywhere with Dexter and refused to take a polygraph test.

In 2011, after the Pagosa Springs Police Department resubmitted 13 pieces of evidence for DNA testing, a test tube that contained a rectal swab taken from Dexter showed that Stane could not be excluded as a contributor.

That’s where the state appeals court starts to take issue.

The appeals court said in its decision that the analysis did not exclude another prime suspect in the murder, as well as most other men (998 out of 1,000).

And, the state court of appeals said the prosecution used Stane’s convictions in two other sexual assault cases to make its case that he murdered Dexter, by trying to create a pattern of abuse, although he was not ever charged with sexually abusing Dexter.

In those two cases, Stane was said to have taken women, usually under the influence of alcohol, to remote places to sexually assault them. In both cases, Stane grabbed the women forcibly by the hair to gain control.

During the trial, the prosecution pointed to these similarities “to prove his identity as the murderer because both acts demonstrated ... at a minimum, a common plan, scheme or design.”

However, the state appeals court argued those methods are common in murders, and were “not so distinctive as to ‘prove that Stane, as distinguished from anyone else, committed the charged offense.’”

Because the appeals court felt jurors were influenced by this information in Stane’s conviction, it granted his request for a retrial.

“The evidence of guilt was substantial but not overwhelming,” the appeals court said. “Thus, it is not surprising that the prosecutor in closing argument repeatedly relied on the evidence of Stane’s sexual assaults of other women.”

The state court of appeals decision includes the details of the two cases in which Stane was accused of sexually assaulting women.

In 1987, Stane took an unnamed woman for a drive to a nearby lake. Stane, who told the woman he had been drinking for 36 hours, made sexual advances, which she refused.

On the way home, Stane stopped the vehicle and “grabbed (her) by the hair and yanked her head down to the pickup seat and said, ‘Now we’re going to do this.’” He then sexually assaulted her for several hours.

In 1992, Stane drove by a woman who was walking from one bar to the next, and he offered her a ride. Instead of dropping her off at the next bar, Stane drove to a secluded area in the woods and sexually assaulted her.

Stane was convicted of felony second-degree sexual assault in 1992. He was released in 2011, and subsequently arrested on the Pagosa Springs cold case just a year later.

jromeo@durangoherald.com