Hall sentenced to 10 years in mutilation case
Victim’s mom applauds verdict, says she feels justice is done
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.”
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.