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Woman Arrested For Murder Of Girlfriend, Who Died After Allegedly Naming Her As Shooter

Celsa Charette allegedly told police in December that she'd been shot by Brandi Utley shortly before she died of her injuries. Utley has now been charged with domestic violence murder in the case.

By Jax Miller
A police handout of Brandi Utley

A Colorado woman has been arrested for the December domestic violence-related shooting death of a woman who said the two were in a relationship.

Brandi Utley, 38, was arrested on Monday on charges of murder connected with the death of Celsa Charette, 41, of Manter, Kansas, according to the Baca County Sheriff’s Office. The charges stem from a shooting in the early morning hours of Dec. 6. 2021, which occurred in a remote area south of the small town of Vilas, Colorado — about 250 miles southeast of Denver near the Kansas border.

According to the initial release, authorities with the sheriff’s office received a 911 call from a local hospital at around 1:57 a.m. Dec. 6, and personnel explained they had a female patient — Charette — who’d inexplicably arrived at the emergency room after sustaining a gunshot wound to the head.

Deputies were unable to interview Charette until after she woke up from surgery the next day, during which time medical personnel said the victim "appeared conscious and stable," according to an affidavit from the Colorado Judicial Department obtained by Oxygen.com.

Charette allegedly told investigators that she was supposed to have picked Utley up from the residence of a man named Willy Will in nearby Walsh, Colorado to take her to Charette's home in Manter — 24 miles away — to get tires for Utley's car. But, Charette said, she initially fell asleep in her vehicle when Utley didn't arrive.

Will confirmed that he saw Charette's vehicle parked in front of this house for about 45 minutes before leaving around 1:00 a.m.

"From the conversation with Ms. Charette, it appears that Ms. Charette and Ms. Utley were parked alongside each other on or near the road; they each remained in their vehicles, and they were arguing," Baca County Undersheriff C. Griffin wrote in his statement. "Ms. Charette stated she left and was approaching a stop or yield sign when a gunshot went through the back window of her vehicle and hit her."

When investigators asked if they were sure Utley was the trigger woman, Charette said, "Nobody else was there."

According to the affidavit, the women had been in a two-year relationship that was "intimate in nature."

A neighbor and acquaintance of both women, Dustin Cooper, told authorities he was "driving around" when he found Charette's vehicle in a ditch with her in the driver's seat, according to the affidavit. He said he'd raced back home, told people there that there had been a car accident and the group first took Charette back to their home before later dropping her off at the hospital. 

During questioning, Charette claimed that Cooper had nothing to do with the shooting. 

Later evidence, including video footage from Will's wildlife game camera, showed that Utley had left Will's residence on Dec. 5, 2021, at 9:22 p.m. and returned at 2:31 a.m. on Dec. 6.

Charette died of her injuries on Dec. 8, 2021.

Investigators obtained a search warrant for Will's property the following day, where they found a Rutger Mini 14 firearm in a trailer house behind the main residence, later determined with a "high probability" to be the murder weapon. 

Utley, Charette had told investigators, often stayed on Will's property

As the search ended on Dec. 11, an individual began driving towards Will's driveway before passing the parked patrol cars without stopped. 

"I could see a female passenger slumped over in the passenger seat in a way that it appeared that the individual was trying to hide their identity," said Griffin. 

Deputies pursued the vehicle but lost it; they eventually found Utley on foot. 

"I found this interaction to be abnormal compared to other interactions I've had in my career in law enforcement where individuals experienced the loss of a loved one or spouse," Griffin continued. "Ms. Utley did not appear to have any intention of stopping or speaking to law enforcement about the progress of the case. In fact, it was quite the opposite."

Later interviews with Utley revealed the suspect had been angry with Charette on the night of the shooting because she suspected Charette was having an affair with Utley's ex-boyfriend, David Phaneuf.

Utley played voice messages she left for Charette on the night of the shooting for investigators. 

"Yea, why are you playing me like a little bitch, bitch?" Utley said in the message, recorded on Dec. 5 at 10:32 p.m. — shortly after she'd left Will's house but before the shooting. "Come on, Celsa, you think I'm that f*****g dumb? This is getting ridiculous. All I ask is that you be f*****g real, man. You can't even be f*****g real. Oh man. You better become real, bitch. It's not f*****g cool anymore. Get it, get it, get it, bitch."

Utley left several more messages, including a final one at 10:37 p.m., requesting that Charette prove she was not with Phaneuf. 

Police interviews with numerous locals yielded varying stories of infidelity, drug deals gone bad and even invoked the "Mexican Mafia."

Finally, Dustin Cooper — among others — admitted that Utley had shown up at his house after the shooting. 

"According to Mr. Cooper, Ms. Utley informed everyone present that she may have shot Ms. Charette and indicated that she suspected that Ms. Charette was shot in the neck and asked for help because she didn't know what to do."

Cooper and another drove to find Charette, eventually finding her car in a ditch. 

Utley initially denied ever owning the firearm found on Will's property, but texts unearthed by authorities showed Utley discussed having the gun in her possession on multiple occasions — including in a text with Phaneuf, the man she suspected of having an affair with Charette.

“Between Dec. 6, 2021, and April 25, 2022, the Baca County Sheriff’s Office has devoted hundreds of hours to this case, as well as drafting and serving approximately 18 separate search warrants relating to this case,” the statement read. “Sheriff Shiplett and deputies have processed well over 20,000 pages of records and large volumes of video as well as other types of evidence.”

Court records filed on Monday show that Utley is being held without bond for murder in the first degree and domestic violence.