Hall’s char­ac­ter takes cen­ter stage at re­trial

Ex-in­mates say she said in­sult­ing things about murder vic­tim

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO&STATE - By Steven Krey­tak AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN STAFF

The month af­ter Jen­nifer Cave’s dis­mem­bered body was found in a West Cam­pus apart­ment bath­tub in 2005, Laura Ashley Hall made dis­parag­ing com­ments about Cave to two fel­low in­mates at the Travis County Jail, the in­mates tes­ti­fied Wed­nes­day.

Two years later, in the months af­ter Hall, 26, was con­victed of tam­per­ing with ev­i­dence and hin­der­ing ap­pre­hen­sion in the case, she was concerned only about her­self and “felt like peo­ple just didn’t like her,” a jail coun­selor who treated Hall tes­ti­fied.

The coun­selor, Adela Hiller, told a Travis County jury that Hall’s mood went from emo­tion­ally sta­ble to “fake cry­ing with no tears” dur­ing the pe­riod she coun­seled Hall.

The tes­ti­mony came as pros­e­cu­tors tried to re­veal her char­ac­ter Wed­nes­day dur­ing the sec­ond day of Hall’s sen­tenc­ing re­trial. Her 2007 con­vic­tions re­main in place, but the fiveyear sen­tence was thrown out on ap­peal.

A jury seated ear­lier this week will soon de­cide a new pun­ish­ment for Hall, who al­ready has served about two years in jail. She faces up to 10 years in prison on the tam­per­ing count and up to one year for hin­der­ing ap­pre­hen­sion.

Colton Pitonyak is serv­ing 55 years in prison for mur­der­ing Cave, a 21-year-old le­gal

as­sis­tant orig­i­nally from Cor­pus Christi. Pros­e­cu­tors con­tend that Hall went to his Rio Grande Street apart­ment the morn­ing af­ter the killing and helped him try to con­ceal the crime.

For­mer Travis County Deputy Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner El­iz­a­beth Pea­cock tes­ti­fied that Cave died of a gun­shot that tore through her chest and aorta. She said Cave’s head and hands were re­moved af­ter her death.

Some­one in­flicted a clus­ter of stab wounds to Cave’s head and up­per chest af­ter death, Pea­cock said. Some­one also fired a bul­let into Cave’s head af­ter it had been re­moved from her body, she said.

Pros­e­cu­tors pre­sented to the jury DNA ev­i­dence that showed that nei­ther Pitonyak not Hall could be ex­cluded as con­trib­u­tors to DNA on three items: the murder weapon, a pair of women’s flip-flops found in Pitonyak’s bath­room and a shop towel found in the apart­ment.

Austin po­lice De­tec­tive Mark Gilchrest tes­ti­fied that the towel was crit­i­cal in link­ing Hall to the cleanup of the crime scene — it was one of a list of things Pitonyak bought from Breed & Co. hard­ware store the day af­ter he was last seen with Cave.

Hall con­tends she is in­no­cent, and her lawyers dis­puted that the DNA con­clu­sively links her to the items in Pitonyak’s apart­ment.

As she did at Hall’s pre­vi­ous trial, Hall’s for­mer cell­mate Hen­ri­ette Lan­gen­bach said she spoke to Hall re­peat­edly about the case.

Lan­gen­bach said Hall told her that Pitonyak called Hall over to his apart­ment af­ter shoot­ing Cave and showed her Cave’s body in the bath­tub.

Hall later sent Pitonyak to the store with a shop­ping list and went to lunch while Pitonyak was at the apart­ment ex­e­cut­ing their plan to cut up the body, Lan­gen­bach said.

Ac­cord­ing to Lan­gen­bach, Hall said that Pitonyak had a schol­ar­ship to the Uni­ver­sity of Texas, that Cave was “just a wait­ress” and that she “couldn’t un­der­stand the fuss” about the murder.

Lan­gen­bach is on pro­ba­tion for se­cur­ing a doc­u­ment by de­cep­tion and mis­ap­pli­ca­tion of fidu­ciary prop­erty and has pre­vi­ous con­vic­tions from New Zealand in a child adop­tion scam.

Hall’s lawyer, Joe James Sawyer, sug­gested that Lan­gen­bach lied about her in­ter­ac­tions with Hall to gain a fa­vor­able dis­po­si­tion of her own case from pros­e­cu­tors. Lan­gen­bach said she struck a plea deal be­fore re­veal­ing the con­ver­sa­tions.

Un­der ques­tion­ing by Sawyer, Lan­gen­bach said Hall never said that she had been phys­i­cally in­volved in cut­ting up Cave’s body.

The jury also heard from two for­mer jail in­mates who had not tes­ti­fied at Hall’s pre­vi­ous trial — Olena Grayson and Christie Free­man.

Grayson, on pro­ba­tion for in­jury to a child, said that in Septem­ber 2005, Hall re­ferred to Cave by a vul­gar name, said she was a strip­per and told Grayson that “the eeri­est part was cut­ting through bone.”

Free­man, con­victed of bur­glary, said that dur­ing a group ther­apy ses­sion, Hall said that “the whore was just a dancer; she de­served to die.”

Jay Jan­ner

Laura Hall, en­ter­ing the court­room Wed­nes­day, could face up to 11 years in prison on counts re­lated to the 2005 murder case.

Jay Jan­ner

Sharon Sed­wick, right, vic­tim Jen­nifer Cave’s mother, waits for the start of Laura Hall’s trial Wed­nes­day.

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