Judge finds probable cause in the case against Austin Sigg
It was a full day of testimony during the preliminary hearing for Austin Sigg, the teenager accused of murdering Jessica Ridgeway of Westminster.
During the proceedings, Sigg was clean shaven, wearing glasses and an orange Jefferson County Sheriff's Office jumpsuit. He appeared calm.
The outcome of the Feb. 22 hearing ended with Judge Stephen Munsinger declaring he found proof of evidence and great presumption for probable cause in 18 counts against Sigg.
The counts include first-degree murder, kidnapping, sexual assault and sexual exploitation of a child. Four counts were dropped, including attempt of sexual assault and attempted murder. Both charges are connected to the attempted abduction of a jogger last May at Ketner Lake.
His arraignment is scheduled 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 12, at which time Sigg will plead guilty or not guilty. Sigg is being held without bond.
During the preliminary hearing, the prosecution began with the lead detective on the Ridgeway case, Louis Lopez.
He told the court about Jessica's routine, according to her mother Sarah Ridgeway. He said normally, Jessica met with a friend named Jeremy before walking to school. On Oct. 5, 2012, Lopez said Jessica called Jeremy's father to confirm if Jeremy was walking that day because of the weather, and the father replied yes. But Jessica never showed up.
Lopez said on Oct. 7 Jessica's backpack was found in Superior. Jessica's shirt, pants, underwear, boots, gloves and water bottle were inside the backpack. Lopez said there was male DNA found on some of those items. It was "touch DNA," not semen or sperm, according to Lopez. That DNA matched the DNA found on the clothing of the jogger at Ketner Lake, Lopez said.
Jessica's remains were found on Oct. 10 in the Pattridge Open Space area in Arvada. Lopez said two men were picking up trash when they found a black, shiny trash bag.
“They men said the inside bag felt funny, so they called their supervisor,” Lopez said. “Their supervisor came and cut open the bag with a pocket knife.”
Inside the bag was a small, white, female torso. Lopez said the head, legs and arms were missing. Parental DNA testing from Sarah Ridgeway and Jessica's father, Jeremiah Bryant, determined the torso belonged to Jessica. Lopez said the male DNA found on the torso also matched the DNA found on the water bottle.
Police then released a photo of a cross found in association with the torso to the public. Lopez said police received a tip from Sigg's neighbor on Oct. 19. The neighbor said she was concerned about Austin Sigg, who had dropped out of high school and was taking mortuary science classes. She said she had seen him wear crosses before. Lopez said FBI investigators then went to the Sigg home and obtained a DNA swab from Sigg.
Sigg's mother, Mindy Sigg, called the Westminster tip line at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 23. She reportedly said her son had confessed to the murder and the attack of the jogger at Ketner Lake. A recording of the call was played for the court.
The dispatcher asked Mindy Sigg if her son would be cooperative and she said “yes.”
“He did it. He's turning himself in,” she told the dispatcher.
Austin Sigg then got on the line and told dispatch, “I murdered Jessica Ridgeway, I have proof.” He said the remains were in the crawl space and that he would answer all questions.
He said he didn't know Jessica and when asked if he any weapons in the home, he said. “I will be sitting in the front room. I have knives in my room, and we own guns, too. I give myself up completely."
Police went to the home to investigate and found the remains in the crawl space. Lopez testified that the cause of Jessica's death was asphyxiation, according to the coroner.
Registered nurse Anissa Jones, who is a certified sexual assault examiner, was the second witness to testify. She said she began her examination with a swab of the human remains. She then observed the outside of the remains and found multiple bruises and a laceration.
“I believe there was some sort of penetration that occurred," Jones testified.
The defense team clarified that there was no semen or sperm found on the human remains.
Detective Chris Pyler works in the Crimes Against Children/Internet Crimes division for the Westminster Police Department and was the third witness to testify. He said during the investigation, a laptop and a computer tower were taken from the Sigg home and analyzed. Images of girls and boys exposing themselves were found on both the laptop and the tower. Pyler testified that sexually exploitative videos were also found on both devices.
Westminster Detective Michael Lynch testified about an interview he had with Mindy Sigg. Sigg told his mother that he did not rape Jessica. He said he grabbed Jessica as she walked by his car, put her in his back seat and zip-tied her arms and legs. He said he took her home and had her change clothes. Sigg then told his mother how he killed her. He said he tried to choke her with the zip-ties, but ended up strangling her. After that, he said he dismembered the body in the bath tub, using a saw from the garage. He told his mother he was a monster. Sigg also told his mother he was responsible for the attempted abduction of the jogger.
After the testimony, the judge declared probable cause.
Originally Judge Stephen Munsinger ruled to close the preliminary hearing to the public, but the Colorado Supreme Court overturned his decision. On Feb. 21, the Colorado Supreme Court issued an opinion siding with media organizations who argued that the judge failed to show that holding the hearing in public would jeopardize Sigg's right to a fair trial or consider other ways to protect Sigg's rights without shutting out the public.