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Return to Nature Funeral Home owners will face separate trials, pleas expected next month

Return to Nature
Posted at 8:35 AM, Jun 06, 2024

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. — Jon and Carie Hallford, the owners of the Return to Nature Funeral Home, were expected to give their pleas to more than 200 criminal counts during a court hearing on Thursday morning.

The couple is facing charges of abuse of a corpse, forgery, theft, and money laundering after investigators said 190 bodies were found decomposing without proper refrigeration in their Penrose funeral home back in October.

During Thursday's hearing, Carie Hallford pleaded not guilty to all counts. However, her attorneys withdrew the plea minutes later when Jon's defense requested the hearing be pushed back. His attorney cited the need for a status review hearing with Judge Eric Bentley, who is taking over the case. Judge William Moller will not continue presiding over the case as he's transferring court divisions.

Judge Moller set a new hearing date on July 11th at 8:30 a.m. when the Hallfords are expected to formally enter their pleas.

The judge also ruled during the court hearing that the Hallfords will face separate trials. Originally, the couple was expected to have a joint trial in October. However, on Thursday Judge Moller ruled in favor of the separate trials after he said sealed court documents submitted by Carie's attorneys revealed her defense is "potentially antagonistic" to Jon's.

Several family members of those identified inside the Return to Nature funeral home said they felt having separate trials is appropriate.

"I definitely think he's [Jon Hallford] the mastermind behind this. He kind of seemed to be the one in charge and the one pulling the strings and to see that she's going to use that as her defense, I find it appropriate," said Samantha Naranjo, whose grandmother was identified inside the funeral home. "Maybe she can give us some kind of understanding of what he was doing."

Crystina Page contacted the Hallfords for funeral arrangements after her son died. She has shown up to almost every court hearing for Jon and Carie, including the original arraignment hearing that was postponed in March. She said the delays in the case are frustrating.

"None of us get to delay how we feel," said Page. "I was hoping for a not-guilty plea for both of them."

The Hallfords are also being investigated in a separate case for federal wire fraud charges related to the funeral home business.

As of this last court appearance, Jon remains in detention in a Colorado facility and Carie has been granted GPS-monitored house arrest as a vacancy in a halfway house was sought out for her.

KOAA News5 has a full timeline of the developing events of the Return to Nature Funeral Home.

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