Hall’s character takes center stage at retrial
Ex-inmates say she said insulting things about murder victim
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.”
Laura Hall, entering the courtroom Wednesday, could face up to 11 years in prison on counts related to the 2005 murder case.
Sharon Sedwick, right, victim Jennifer Cave’s mother, waits for the start of Laura Hall’s trial Wednesday.