By: Maggie Bryan
COLORADO SPRINGS (Scripps News Colorado Springs) — On Monday an El Paso County Judge found that Joel Hollendorfer, the man convicted of manslaughter in the death of Kara Nichols, could face an enhanced sentence.
During the habitual criminal hearing lasting nearly four hours, a judge found that Hollendorfer was guilty of four habitual crimes that can act as sentence enhancers to the original two to four-year sentence he is facing.
The judge considered four felony charges that Hollendorfer was convicted of in the late 90s, including theft and attempted burglary. He could face a mandatory 24 years in prison with the sentence enhancement.
Court records show Hollendorfer was also convicted of harassment and protection order violations in 2012 and 2013. Those convictions, however, cannot be considered for enhancing his sentence because they were misdemeanors.
Kara’s family and friends said this is a step forward in the fight for justice after they were expecting a jury to hand him a first-degree murder conviction last month. Kara’s friend, Autumn Hopfe, said Hollendorfer’s previous charges should paint a picture of the kind of person he is.
“It basically is very clear that Joel is a violent person who doesn’t care about other people, and he doesn’t care about who they are,” she said. “It’s important to remember her as a person for who she is, who she was, and what kind of life she could have had.”
Paul Nichols, Kara’s father, sent Scripps News Colorado Springs this statement after Monday’s hearing:
“It’s terribly difficult to have to listen to these proceedings when it’s so clear to us that a man who could strangle our daughter and bury her body so methodically in his mother’s backyard, hiding her for 10 years, is guilty of murder. We are glad the judge found substantial evidence that this perpetrator is a habitual criminal. We hope that Judge Bain imposes the maximum sentence for this heinous crime.”
The defense told Scripps News Colorado Springs they had no comment.
The next hearing will be on August 23, where the judge will decide whether or not the habitual crimes are proportionate to the possible enhancement of 24 years. The official sentencing will come a few weeks after that hearing.
Kara was 19 years old when she was reported missing back in 2012 by her father.
Investigators singled out Joel Hollendorfer as a primary suspect of interest in Nichols’ disappearance citing Nichols’ last cellphone calls made to Hollendorfer before her disappearance.
The investigation would come close to discovering Nichols’ body in 2014 after detectives tracked her final known to an area that eventually would be located at a property on Burgess Road in the Black Forest listed to Hollendorfer’s parents.
A search warrant and search of the grounds with cadaver dogs was done in 2014 but ultimately no excavation was done as Betty Hollendorfer, Joel’s mother, stated the family had buried multiple horses and animals on the property since 1985.
A development in the search for Kara Nichols came in February of 2022 when the former wife of Hollendorfer, Kristina Hollendorfer spoke with FBI Agents about the case, telling them Joel Hollendorfer had allegedly confessed to her about accidentally killing an escort and buried her in an old horse grave on his parent’s property.
Following this interview, Joel Hollendorfer was arrested on an unrelated charge. During this time investigators asked Hollendorfer to again identify all the spots where animals were buried on his parent’s property. When asked about a previous spot identified during the search investigators said he told them it was, a “dry patch with a high spot” but that nothing was buried there.
Investigators would go back to interview Hollendorfer’s mom where she reportedly described the same spot as being the burial site of her favorite horse “Milo.”
Authorities began searching Hollendorfer’s parent’s property again on February 3rd, 2022 following the obtainment of a search warrant.
During the search of the spot identified by Hollendofer’s mom as “Milo’s” grave, they found a body that would later be confirmed to be Kara Nichols.
Joel Hollendorfer was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence on February 9th, 2022.
In June of 2023, a jury convicted Hollendorfer of manslaughter in Kara’s death.
This story was originally published by Scripps News Colorado Springs, an E.W. Scripps Company.