Hall sen­tenced to 10 years in mu­ti­la­tion case

Vic­tim’s mom ap­plauds ver­dict, says she feels jus­tice is done

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Steven Krey­tak

Laura Ashley Hall’s de­ci­sion to ap­peal her orig­i­nal five-year sen­tence back­fired Fri­day as a Travis County jury sen­tenced her to 10 years — the max­i­mum — for tam­per­ing with ev­i­dence in the 2005 West Cam­pus murder of Jen­nifer Cave.

The woman who pros­e­cu­tors say helped now-con­victed mur­derer Colton Pitonyak mu­ti­late Cave’s body be­fore driv­ing him to Mex­ico sobbed qui­etly af­ter the jury fore­man read the ver­dict. She told the judge she had noth­ing to say.

Cave’s mother, Sharon Sed­wick, whom Hall threat­ened in phone calls that were recorded and played for the jury Thurs­day, cried im­me­di­ately af­ter the sen­tence was read. She con­tin­ued to cry as she hugged the lead de­tec­tive in the case, vic­tims coun­selors and pros­e­cu­tors, in­clud­ing Bill Bishop and Stephanie McFarland, whose mis­steps caused the orig­i­nal sen­tence to be thrown out.

Sed­wick, of Cor­pus Christi, said the thoughts of her daugh­ter’s head and hands be­ing cut off were re­placed with joy­ous vi­sions of her

Con­tin­ued from A1 blue-eyed, auburn-haired daugh­ter danc­ing in heaven with her re­cently de­ceased aunt.

“How can you be sat­is­fied when your child is gone?” Sed­wick said out­side of court. “Do I feel like jus­tice is done? Do I feel like the sys­tem worked? Yes.”

It was the third trial that Sed­wick had en­dured with her hus­band, Jim.

At Pitonyak’s trial in Jan­uary 2007, a jury sent him to prison for 55 years. Later that year, an­other jury con­victed Hall of tam­per­ing with ev­i­dence and hin­der­ing ap­pre­hen­sion. The ver­dict was up­held, but the sen­tence was thrown out when a court found that pros­e­cu­tors had failed to give the de­fense ev­i­dence about their only sen­tenc­ing wit­ness.

Hall, 26, has main­tained her in­no­cence to po­lice and in me­dia in­ter­views, say­ing that she was in Pitonyak’s apart­ment af­ter the killing but did not par­tic­i­pate in the mu­ti­la­tion and did not call po­lice be­cause she was afraid of him.

Her lawyers spent much of the sen­tenc­ing re­trial try­ing to prove her in­no­cence rather than ask­ing for a le­nient sen­tence.

Hall’s par­ents and her lawyers left court quickly af­ter the ver­dict and could not be reached for com­ment.

Hall also re­ceived a one-year sen­tence for hin­der­ing ap­pre­hen­sion, which will run con­cur­rently. She has the right to ap­peal her sen­tence. She has al­ready served about two years in jail.

Dur­ing the week­long sen­tenc­ing re­trial, pros­e­cu­tors pre­sented much of their orig­i­nal case about the crime.

Wit­nesses tes­ti­fied that on Aug. 16, 2005, Cave was ex­cited about a new job as an as­sis­tant at a law firm when she ended up go­ing out on Sixth Street with Pitonyak, a friend who had at times supplied her with drugs.

Pitonyak ap­peared heav­ily in­tox­i­cated that night, and Cave, 21, told a friend early the next morn­ing that he was act­ing er­rat­i­cally but that she did not feel un­safe, ac­cord­ing to tes­ti­mony. About two hours later, Pitonyak went to a neigh­bor’s apart­ment with a gun, a spot of blood on him and a story that he had just got­ten into a fight with some Mex­i­cans, the neigh­bor, Nora Sul­li­van, tes­ti­fied.

Pitonyak called Hall, who had spent the night at a friend’s house, the next morn­ing, and she went to his apart­ment, pros­e­cu­tors said.

At one point the next day, Pitonyak went to a hard­ware store to buy clean­ing sup­plies and a hack­saw that was later found on Cave’s body. Hall that day with­drew $35 from an ATM and gassed up her Cadil­lac.

Later that night, cell phone records show, they were on the way to Mex­ico, where au­thor­i­ties found them less than a week later.

What role Hall played in the mu­ti­la­tion is dis­puted. She could not be ex­cluded as a con­tribu- Jen­nifer Cave’s mother, Sharon Sed­wick, hugs a sup­porter Fri­day. ‘Do I feel like the sys­tem worked? Yes,’ Sed­wick said out­side of court. tor to DNA found on a gun used to kill Cave, a towel and a pair of flip-flops in the bath­room.

Pros­e­cu­tors said that the towel puts her at the scene af­ter the killing and that the flip-flops put her in the bath­room. De­fense lawyers noted the DNA does not show a con­clu­sive link to Hall.

Com­ments that Hall was ac­cused of mak­ing se­cured the rest of the case for pros­e­cu­tors.

Sul­li­van, the neigh­bor, said Hall sug­gested that she par­tic­i­pated in the dis­mem­ber­ment. Hen­ri­ette Lan­gen­bach, a for­mer cell­mate of Hall’s, said Hall ad­mit­ted en­cour­ag­ing Pitonyak to fin­ish the job.

Dur­ing clos­ing ar­gu­ments, pros­e­cu­tor Christo­pher Baugh ticked through some ad­di­tional state­ments at­trib­uted to Hall by fel­low jail in­mates:

“The whore de­served to die. She was a (ex­ple­tive) bitch.”

“The only eerie part about it was the sound of cut­ting through the bone.”

Baugh, ar­gu­ing that Hall dis­liked Cave, asked the jury to con­sider why her body was mu­ti­lated. “Was she not just say­ing ‘F-you’ to Jen­nifer? Was she not just say­ing ‘F-you’ to her fam­ily?” he asked.

Pros­e­cu­tor Al­li­son Wet­zel dis­counted tes­ti­mony by Hall’s fa­ther that she suf­fers from bipo­lar dis­or­der and said that Hall de­served to be pun­ished for her crime and that so­ci­ety needs to be pro­tected from her.

“What was done to Jen­nifer’s body … was pure ha­tred. Shoot­ing into her sev­ered head was pure ha­tred. And who hated her?” Wet­zel said.

She held up a pic­ture of Hall with Pitonyak in Mex­ico af­ter the killing, both smil­ing widely as they sat in a child’s play area.

“This is who Laura Hall is,” she said. “This is some­one who thinks that the rules do not ap­ply to her. … That is not a mental ill­ness; that’s some­one who is a so­ciopath.”

Rodolfo Gon­za­lez Amer­i­cAn-StAteS­mAn

Sharon Sed­wick, the mother of murder vic­tim Jen­nifer Cave, hugs Travis County in­ves­ti­ga­tor Sgt. James Bergman af­ter Laura Hall was sen­tenced to 10 years in prison Fri­day.

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