WARNING: Previously unreleased descriptions of the crime scene where Kara Nichols’ body was found may be distressing to some readers. Discretion is advised.
(COLORADO SPRINGS) — More than a decade after the disappearance of 19-year-old Kara Nichols, the man found guilty of her killing, Joel Hollendorfer, was officially sentenced on Thursday, Aug. 31. Despite the verdict, the sentencing has left friends and family deeply dissatisfied, as they claim that justice has not been served.
On Thursday, an El Paso County judge sentenced Hollendorfer to 24 years behind bars for manslaughter. However, those closest to Kara Nichols assert that this sentence falls short of delivering true justice for the life lost.
Autumn Hopfe, Kara Nichols’ best friend, expressed the collective sentiment, stating, “All of us were looking for that first-degree murder. That’s the justice that Kara deserved… He is a monster. A monster is actually an understatement. He’s completely violent, disgusting… and should not be allowed back on the streets ever again.”
Nichols was reported missing on October 14, 2012. Her case went unsolved for nearly a decade until investigators found Nichols’s body buried on Hollendorfer’s family’s property in Black Forest.
Friends, family, and law enforcement delivered emotional impact statements at Thursday’s hearing describing the past decade and the aftermath of Hollendorfer’s actions.
El Paso County Detective Tammy Tadlock, who had interviewed Hollendorfer when Nichols initially went missing a decade ago, expressed her frustration over his deceit and the anguish inflicted upon Nichols’ loved ones due to his lies.
“In my interview, he said I was wasting his time. But he could have solved this case right away… Shame on you [Hollendorfer], and shame on your family for hiding all your secrets,” Tadlock asserted.
Brad Whitehead, the El Paso County detective who found Nichol’s body in June of 2022 told the court he hasn’t been able to process what he saw that day until Thursday’s hearing.
In an unheard account, he described the horrific nature of how her body had been found on top of a horse’s grave on Hollendorfer’s family farm, wrapped in plastic trash bags. Whitehead distinctly remembers when he saw Nichol’s arm hanging off a bucket.
“I have seen my fair share of violent incidents but this one has struck me the most,” said Whitehead.
“I couldn’t listen to [Whitehead’s testimony] because I didn’t want that image in my mind for the rest of my life,” said Kara Nichols’ mother, Julia Nichols. “But knowing that he testified to that, it was very impactful… I just wish the system would have found a way to have him be able to have testified to that in front of the jury.”
Thursday’s hearing saw friends and family members passionately speaking about what they believed to be an unfair trial process. They accused the defense of unfairly tarnishing Kara Nichols’ image by using her past as an escort and drug addict while shielding Hollendorfer’s criminal history.
“My sister was dragged through the mud with inflammatory allegations… Meanwhile, his [Hollendorfer’s] life as a career criminal was concealed. The defense presented her vicious murder as a result of her profession,” said Kara Nichols’ brother, Terry Nichols.
In June, a jury found Hollendorfer guilty of manslaughter, when friends and family had been sure that this was an act of first-degree murder, deserving of life in prison.
“There is no such thing as an accidental strangulation… That’s not common sense… Why didn’t he try to resuscitate Kara? Why didn’t he drive her to the nearest hospital to try and save her life?” questioned Kara Nichols’ father, Paul Nichols, articulating his confusion and frustration about the sentence.
In a statement, District Attorney Michael Allen agreed: “This senseless crime deserves a more severe punishment than what the law can provide. We urge the Department of Corrections to uphold the entirety of the… sentence.”
Hollendorfer’s criminal history only came to light after the trial, revealing a history of felony convictions. These revelations led to a longer sentence, up to 24 years, than initially expected for a manslaughter conviction. Despite this, Nichols’ family, now traumatized and forever changed by the loss of their loved one, continue to feel that justice remains elusive.
“As a family we no longer celebrate holidays or even birthdays,” explained Nichols’ father, who said these types of occasions were too painful to endure.
In a poignant sentencing statement, Judge William Bain addressed Hollendorfer, acknowledging the profound pain and sorrow that the case had brought forth.
“Because of your conduct on one night, you have caused more than a decade of pain and sorrow that will last forever,” Judge Bain stated.
Hollendorfer was advised by his attorneys not to speak during the hearing. The judge granted him the 571 days he has already served as part of his sentence.
Friends and family firmly believe this sentence allows Hollendorfer the opportunity to repeat this crime, when he gets out. Regardless, the Nichols family stands united, determined to ensure that Hollendorfer serves his full sentence, stating they will attend any and all parole hearings and will be ready to re-read their victim impact statements at any point.
The family’s plea for $88,000 in restitution will be discussed and decided within the next few weeks.