Friday, September 28, 2007

My Top Five Low-Water, Low-Maintenance Plants

After more than 6 years of trial and error, I now feel comfortable recommending my five favorite really-hard-to-kill plants. These are all sun-loving, NOT water-loving flowers or shrubs that don't require rich soil or any special treatment whatsoever. Water them every few days for a coupla weeks right after you first plant them to get them established, then you should be able to basically ignore them (unless it's super hot with no rain for more than a month or so.) Putting some high-quality, hardwood mulch around them helps allot, too.

So here they are, in no particular order. I can't figure out how to make the pics from our yard post next to their corresponding text, but the pics are (from top to bottom) in the same order as my descriptions. Hope that makes sense.

Plumbago: loves sun but can handle part shade, too. Cover it in winter during hard freezes during the first year. Blooms from late Spring through mid-Fall.

Mexican Sage: grows pretty quickly but can be trimmed back. Blooms early Summer through mid- to late Fall.

Rubber Plant: haven't seen its blooms yet--I think they have small pinkish-white blooms in Spring.

Bicolor Iris: blooms in Spring with white flowers that are sort of periwinkle-shaped.

Rosemary: REALLY does NOT like much water. Besides being a great edible herb, it smells good and blooms small, pale, bluish-purple flowers erratically.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Nice Type of Unsolicited Opinion

Yesterday, there was a knock at our front door around 8:30 in the morning. We peered through the peephole and could see that it was one of our nice, 60-something-year-old neighbors. He wanted to make sure we knew how beautiful our big purple feathergrass plant appeared in the morning light--the view from his house.
Wow! That makes our hard yardwork even more rewarding. Very cool.

Miscellaneous Pitonyak Trial and Hall Trial Observations

A fellow Court TV viewer who had followed the Pitonyak trial (televised on Court TV and through their streaming video feed) wanted my take on a couple of questions (at the bottom) but were especially curious to know what, if anything, I knew about the following three people:

Evan Ray: Based on testimony presented in Laura Hall’s trial, all we know is that when CP showed up at Nora Sullivan’s condo around 3 a.m. (8/17/05), he used her cell three times, trying to call Evan, whom Nora described as “a mutual friend.”

There were several more calls from CP’s cell to Evan’s cell number between around 5:50 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. and one more around noon. No evidence of Evan Ray's ever calling (or texting) CP's cell number was presented.

Jason Mack: The following excerpt from my blog and the excerpt from The Daily Texan are all I know about him.

(Part of my Tue., 9/04/07 blog): Okay, back to this morning's testimony: defense's second witness, Jason Mack. Mack said he's 25 and works as a painter, having owned his business for about a year and that at age 17 he served some time in prison for burglary. Mack said that in August of 2005, he'd been living w/CP at CP's Orangetree condo #88 for about 3 months. During that time, he'd met Jennifer Cave and Laura Hall.

According to Mack, 2 days before Cave's murder, Hall came over to collect money she'd loaned CP the week before (that CP owed to some really bad guys.) Mack said that at that time, CP was really drunk and had run out of Xanax and was freaking out, but that "everyone there" was "on something."

Apparently CP had physically thrown LH outside onto the steps of the condo. Pitonyak said to Mack, (according to Mack) "this bitch is driving me fucking crazy" and then pulled his gun out of a (desk?) drawer. Mack tried to calm CP down--CP also mentioned that his mom was in town and that he had a test coming up--telling him to chill out. Mack said CP had been up for 9 days and that he thought CP would have used the gun on anyone at that point, that CP was delusional and crazy.

Mack said he finally convinced Hall to leave (CP's condo) w/him and that the two of them spent the night at a friend's place in south Austin, where they told Hall to stay away from CP or she was going to get herself killed.

Mack said he'd left his Texas ID/driver's license on CP's coffee table (because CP was so paranoid he insisted that Mack leave it) in order to briefly borrow CP's car. Mack said he'd reported the above incident to the Austin Police Department (APD) and was never contacted by APD.

from The Daily Texan: “Pitonyak said he received the Smith & Wesson pistol that ultimately killed Cave as payment for a drug sale in July 2005. He kept the gun for a month before selling the gun to Jason, an acquaintance of Hall's. Pitonyak said he never loaded the gun while it was in his possession. The Saturday before Cave's death, Jason visited Pitonyak's apartment while he was "drinking heavily."
Jason asked to borrow Pitonyak's car to see a friend.
Pitonyak agreed on the premise that Jason would get his newly acquired gun back when he returned the car. Jason didn't return the car and was ultimately arrested. That's how the gun ended up back in Pitonyak's apartment, according to Pitonyak. The defense's case hinges on the premise that Pitonyak didn't check if the gun was loaded after he retained possession.”

Ryan Martindill: In Hall’s trial, he testified (on direct exam) that he worked at the same law office as Laura Hall in spring/summer 2005 and they became friends. He lived in an apartment in southeast Austin (same general part of town as LH’s apartment) with two roommates, Star Salzman and John M. (sorry, didn’t catch his last name.)

Martindill testified that on the night of Tue., 8/16/05, LH was at his apartment watching television with him and that she spent the night and woke up Ryan around 7-7:30 a.m. (8/17/05), saying she needed to go see CP because he was going to be leaving soon and she wanted to spend time with him. Martindill then took her to her car, which was at her apartment.

One or 2 weeks later, LH called him to let him know she was alive and okay and suggested he read the papers; she seemed surprised he hadn’t heard about the murder. Two days later, LH called to see if she could stay at his place, and he told her she could stay for one night. Martindill picked her up from the bus station and asked her if she was involved in Jennifer Cave’s murder. Hall told him “they” were innocent and knew nothing.

Later LH went downtown with Martindill, and while he was at Stubb’s, she got “Colton” tattooed on her ankle. In the car afterwards, LH said she didn’t know anything. Martindill asked her if she had gone into the (CP’s) bathroom and she said CP “wouldn’t have let her.” On cross exam, Martindill admitted that he doesn’t have a complete independent recollection of those conversations and had re-read his prior statements.

At CP’s trial, upon direct exam, Martindill said that LH was obsessed with and in love with CP. The only other sort of interesting (to me, at least) details he added were that the night of Tue., 8/16/05, around 9:30 p.m., LH was hanging out at Martindill’s and that she was drinking rum that she had brought and he was drinking beer. Martindill said that he fell asleep around midnight and that LH woke him at 7 a.m. (8/17/05), saying CP had called her and she needed a ride to her car. Later there was testimony about LH & CP showing up at Martindill’s apartment the evening of 8/17/05 to retrieve LH’s bottle of rum.

Why didn’t prosecutors talk to Hall for CP’s trial? I seriously doubt Laura Hall’s lawyer (at that time it was her court-appointed lawyer, Tom Weber) would allow LH to speak to prosecutors. After the State rested its case-in-chief in CP’s trial, the defense subpoenaed LH, so she appeared and asserted her 5th Amendment right in front of Judge Flowers. Weber asked the prosecutors if they would consider giving LH limited immunity in exchange for her testimony, and they answered with a firm “no.” That all happened at the end of a lunch recess, before many people were back in the courtroom (well, I was there.)

What did I, personally, think of the performance of CP’s lawyers?: Okay, just for the sake of argument, I thought a better overall strategy would have been to scour the earth to try to find drug buyers/dealers, friends, etc who would testify to something like the fact that there were lots of them (and other shady characters) in and out of CP’s condo quite often and at all times of the day and night and that CP was often really messed up and out of it.

Then, when CP took the stand, it might seem more plausible (because others had testified to being at CP’s condo so often) that he would say, “I guess it MUST have been me…” when Minton asked him if he’d killed Jennifer Cave. Instead, what CP did say on the stand was closer to “I killed her: I was the only other person there that night.” I remember my jaw almost fell to the floor when Minton elicited this. I think Minton had CP repeat those words.

Okay, now that I think this through more, I guess it would be VERY difficult to FIND these shady characters in the first place, and if they were found, they might not be very credible or would plead the 5th. I don’t know; I just thought it was bizarre that Minton seemed determined to get CP to say he did it, rather than say it must have been he. I guess Minton was trying to make CP look better for the sentencing phase, having decided CP would never get a not-guilty verdict? Just my opinion, of course.


Mistrial Declared! Phil Spector Jury is Hung 10-2

More details as I hear on the KTLA website. Jury's now dismissed. They didn't indicate the breakdown of the 10-2 split. Maybe some jurors will speak to the press after Judge Fidler talks to them. The talking heads seem to think at least one juror will talk.

Postscript: three jurors spoke, but I only caught part of it. The important part I heard was that the breakdown was 10=guilty; 2=not guilty. A hearing is now scheduled for Wed., 10/03/07 at 10 a.m. (Pacific time) to discuss whether the State wants to retry Spector plus other related scheduling/housekeeping matters.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Phil Spector Jury's Now Hitting the 40-Hour Mark

over 11 days of deliberation. I usually don't criticize juries, but this group must not be able to see the forest for the trees!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Unsolicited Opinions

Earlier today, Kurt and I were out in the front yard pulling weeds and putting down more mulch. It was really hot and humid. A guy in a big red pickup truck drives by, slowing way down and says, "You guys have gotten your yard looking really great!" We both said thank you. (Brief background: over the past 7 years, we've transformed our conventional grass-covered front yard into a big xeriscaped garden.)

Then this guy says, "When you gonna start on your HOUSE?" Uncomfortable silence for a few seconds, then he says, "I mean, I'm a carpenter, so..." I was caught off guard and laughed, saying "We're on the 5-year plan," to which he responded, "Oh yeah--the 5-year plan. I like that: after all, why rush it?" His tone was sarcastic. Then he said, "Anyway, y'all have a great neighborhood," and he drove off.

Thanks buddy. Kurt gave him a dirty look, then Kurt and I resumed pulling the evil nutgrass.

But I couldn't let it go in my head: was there a nicer way he could have asked about our house plans? Not that it's any of his business in the first place. But yes: he could have said, "So do y'all also have big plans for the house?" Still a bit of a backhanded compliment, but not an outright insult...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

RIP, Grand Old Tree

Well, it was a cottonwood, which is not my favorite tree in the world, but it was over 40 feet tall and probably over 60 years old, so I felt unexpectedly sad when we finally had to have it taken out (because it was at least 90 percent dead.) It was really wild watching the tree guys, who are "climbers" (not bucket-truckers), making their cuts and attaching their ropes and pulleys, then successfully pulling down the two huge trunks into the street. RIP old cottonwood: the elm beside you now has more room to spread & be happy.

Was She Murdered? Part 4

Talk to the neighbors?
I guess I'm going to have to break down and do the open-records-act request thing, which I've never done before but was told I should try and that I should be able to get the medical examiner's report, as well as the police report.

But I'm also resolving to now talk to my two neighbors who knew (in a casual, neighbor kind of way) Marie when she lived here. Two years ago I was at a block party, which happened to be around Christmas, and I asked the neighbors a few questions about Marie but then decided it wasn't really an appropriate setting to push my luck.

I did learn that, according to one neighbor, Marie was quite friendly and outgoing--she even invited the neighbors in to show off her kitchen renovation--and regularly walked the block every morning, drinking her cup of coffee. The neighbor told me that the morning of the day Marie died, the neighbor noticed Marie taking her usual walk but also noticed that Marie appeared very upset and agitated, very out-of-character.

The neighbor also told me that Marie's parents could "never accept" what happened, that they continued to come down to Austin from Dallas regularly
in their travel-trailer after Marie's death

Pages from the Motion for New Trial for Laura Hall

The Motion for New Trial (filed yesterday afternoon) plus Exhibit "A" are made available by KXAN News in this pdf. KXAN does not appear to offer Exhibits "B" and "C", so I am posting them here for those who may be interested.

Exhibit "B"
Page 1 of 6
Page 2 of 6
Page 3 of 6
Page 4 of 6
Page 5 of 6
Page 6 of 6

Exhibit "C"
Page 1 of 2
Page 2 of 2


Friday, September 21, 2007

Laura Hall's Lawyer Files Motion for New Trial

late this afternoon. I'll post more details, if possible, tomorrow. Check tonight's 10 p.m. local news channels and/or their websites--I'm sure they have it. (KVUE, KEYE, KXAN, FOX7, News8Austin--sorry if I left anyone out.)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

KVUE Posts Laura Hall Police Interrogation Videotapes

Laura Hall's lawyer, Joe James Sawyer, wanted these (or some of them, I guess) admitted during his defense case, but the judge denied his request.

According to KVUE, Sawyer will be filing a Motion for a New Trial tomorrow.
Check out the tapes at KVUE

Phil Spector Trial: Judge Fidler Tells Pros. Alan Jackson

that Jackson is speaking out of both sides of his mouth, but says he doesn't mean it in a derogatory way--pretty funny. This is in the midst of yet more arguing among Pros., Def., & Fidler as to how to draft a new instruction to replace ("pinpoint") Special Instruction #3, which Fidler decided yesterday should be tossed because part of it mis-states the law (& because the jury seems to be particularly hung up on it, which is just my opinion.) Meanwhile, the jury's been hanging around for almost 4 hours today, wondering when or if they'll be resuming their deliberations.

Was She Murdered? Part 3

Marie's friends had a different theory than the police's.
At this point in my long phone call with Sherry, she told me to go look at the lock
on my northwest corner window, as well as the inner wood frame above it. It was clear, from the outline in the old paint, that the lock had been moved over a few inches, and straight up from the lock's previous location, the inner wood frame had some minor damage as if the window had been shoved up forcefully.

This window, physically, is pretty much a straight shot from the bathroom. I checked all the other windows in the entire house, and they all appeared to have their locks in their original positions. There was some similar, yet much more minor, damage on the inner wood frames of a few other windows.

Sherry and some of Marie's other friends and acquaintances believed that Marie's attorney/former-legislator/employer hired someone to threaten or kill Marie to get the embezzled money back and/or make sure she didn't go public with the affair.

Further, they believed that when Marie didn't answer the door, the hired gunman broke in through that northwest corner window, chased her into the bathroom and shot at her twice. Sherry said she thought the attorney/former-legislator/employer paid off the police or strongly suggested they rule it a suicide and keep it quiet.

But why two shots?
Sherry told me that no suicide note was found. She said the police claimed that the first shot into the bathtub/shower was Marie's "practice shot" before her self-inflicted fatal shot.

By the way, I had vaguely noticed the two chips in the shower tiles when we moved in but did not examine them closely, assuming that since this was an old house, the chips were a related to a plumbing repair or something like that. However, after the PI took his photos of the chips, I did take a closer look at them, and they definitely appear to be bullet ricochet marks that someone has tried to paint over a bit. Of course, a little white paint doesn't hide their depth and shape.

Sherry and her friends found it impossible to believe that Marie, who had just bought her first house and was excited about renovating it, who had just bought two puppies, and who had a dinner date planned that night, would kill herself.

Was She Murdered? Part 2

Would the previous owner know anything about Marie's death?
I couldn't remember the name of the woman from whom we bought our house, so I dug through the closing papers for her name and did a very old-fashioned thing: I looked her up in the phone book and called her.

"Hello, Sherry? This is Iris, who bought our house from you 2 years ago. What's the deal with Marie?" Sherry paused a long time then said, "Hang on, let me switch phones." I told her about the private investigator that Marie's parents had hired showing up at our door to take photos of the our shower tile nicks. I had no idea I was in for such a dramatic story.

Yes, she did know a few things:
Sherry told me that she had bought our house from Marie's estate but that she had been acquainted with Marie through mutual friends. According to Sherry, Marie had worked for years for a state legislator who had recently lost his re-election bid and gone back into private law practice. There were rumors that Marie had an affair with him and that she'd recently been caught embezzling from him. Around this same time, Marie bought our house and put a chunk of money into upgrading the kitchen, as well as adding the fence. She also bought a new Mercedes and two Shar Pei puppies around the same time.

According to Sherry, on the day of Marie's death, Marie had a date planned for that evening with someone she'd gone out with several times before. When Marie didn't show up for the date, her date called her and got the answering machine. The date waited a few more hours, calling Marie several more times, leaving more urgent messages for Marie to please call back. By 2:30 a.m., the date decided to grab a friend and go over to Marie's house. They found her dead on her bloody bathroom floor and called the police.

Sherry didn't know details about the police investigation but said that lots of Marie's friends and acquaintances were shocked to hear the police calling it a suicide. There were rumors of a couple of "goons" pounding on the front door earlier in the day on the day of her death. (My neighbor has since told me that her husband had indeed seen a man in a suit with a briefcase knocking on Marie's front door that day.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Robert Springsteen's & Michael Scott's Next Pre-Trial Hearings

according to the online docket, are Monday, Oct 8th, in Judge Mike Lynch's 167th District courtroom. Issues to be addressed: ruling on the prosecution's request for a gag order? Ruling on each defense's request to have his client face all four murder charges at the same time, at one (rather than four separate) trial? I'm sure there's a more legal and eloquent way of wording that, but I gather those are the current pretrial issues awaiting rulings.

Neither Springsteen's lawyer (Joe Jame Sawyer) nor Michael Scott's lawyer (Carlos Garcia) is requesting a gag order.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Phil Spector Jury Claims It's Deadlocked 7-5, but

Judge Fidler asks each juror if there's any chance if hearing some jury instructions again would help them attempt to agree on a verdict. Three jurors say they'd like to hear a few jury instructions again, so Judge Fidler sends the jury home for today, ordering them to return tomorrow morning.

Fidler tells the attorneys (after the jury's left) he'll do some case law research tonight because he's seriously considering adding a lesser-included charge of manslaughter for the jury's consideration tomorrow.

Amazing! I am really rather shocked the split is 7-5! I really try to observe trials from the most "presumption of innocence" position reasonably possible--the State needs to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. But COME ON! That doesn't mean beyond any possible shred of any doubt or any possible speculative POSSIBILITY one might come up with!

We'll see what happens tomorrow.

Was She Murdered? Part 1

We bought our 1941-built house in 1990.
I refer to it as a bungalow, and although it lacks some of the architectural characteristics of the true bungalow style (deep eaves, large front porch), it does share the bungalow's populist spirit, general layout, and small size.

Onto the death of Marie, who apparently owned & lived in our house around 1986-87. I had housemates back then (now-husband Kurt was not yet one of them). I got home from work one Spring evening in 1992 and housemate Jim was sitting on the couch drinking a Bass and looking uncharacteristically, quietly freaked out.

What's going on?
Jim tells me that an hour ago, a man rang the doorbell claiming to be a private investigator, hired by Marie's parents, attempting to find evidence to get the police to re-open the investigation into their daughter's death,even though the case had been closed about 4 years. It had been ruled a suicide and her parents refused to believe it was a suicide. We had never even heard of Marie before now.

The man went on to say that he would like to take pictures of our shower because he expected to find a bullet mark/chip on two tiles. Jim wonders what kind of scam this might be and doesn't let the man inside, but then the guy describes the exact location, within our shower, of the two nicks in the tiles. Jim looked at the business card, decided the PI was legitimate, and led him to the bathroom to take pictures.

Sure enough, the PI headed straight to the two little chips in the shower wall tiles and took a bunch of photos. He also pointed on the bathroom floor, describing the angle her body was found, diagonally with her head near the hinge-side of the door. The PI also let Jim read the autopsy report, which showed the angle of the gunshot that killed her: above her right breast, maybe shoulder level or higher, with the bullet traveling down diagonally towards her heart.

The PI said that the police said that the other bullet casing found was from a "practice shot" into the bathtub and that the two chips in the tile were ricochet marks from that "practice shot." Jim wasn't given a copy of the report, but he remembered that Marie was somewhere in her mid- to late twenties, had breast implants and a small rose tattoo on her chest.

Although I'd never felt any weird haunted vibes in our house and considered myself fairly sensitive to bad house feelings, Jim and I both decided to spend that night at friends' houses.

The next morning,
I bought a new ceramic candle holder and pale blue candle taper to fit in it and returned home. I sat down by the edge of the bathtub, near the deepest bullet ricochet chip mark, and lit the new candle. I just sort of talked to Marie's spirit, telling her how much I loved living in the house and that, although I didn't understand how she'd died, I felt comfortable here, like maybe she was at peace and that I also wanted her to know her parents were still thinking of her and trying to get the investigation re-opened. I told her I didn't know if she would even want the investigation re-opened but thought she'd want to know that her parents did.

Later that evening,
I called the woman from whom we'd bought the house to see what, if anything, she knew about Marie...

Monday, September 17, 2007

I Haven't Lost My Interest in Murder Trials

Laura Hall's attorney, Joe James Sawyer, was back in the news today after a pretrial hearing for another of his clients, Robert Springsteen. Springsteen's murder conviction (so-called Yogurt Shop Murders) was overturned and his new trial is expected to start early next year. I plan to attend some of it.

So, while this blog evolves, I'm narrowing the focus. What does our old house have to do with mysterious murders? I have heard some pieces of stories about a previous owner of this house having been found dead from a gunshot in the bathroom. It was ruled a suicide, but some people who knew her think she was murdered.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

No One Has Ever Been Arrested

for the murder of Tupac Shakur, who died 11 years ago to this day (after being shot 6 days earlier.) Why?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Phil Spector Jury

has, by end of the day today, been deliberating for a little over 9 hours total over 2 days, according to the CourtTV website. The trial itself lasted around 5 MONTHS! (I think it would have taken 3 weeks, max, if it had been tried in Travis County.)

That LA court's "regular" hours in this trial were 9:30-4, w/a 1.5-hour lunch, Mon-Thur only. Wow. I can't imagine serving on a jury that many months, especially when not working full days & not working 5 days a week.

The CourtTV blogger, Harriet Ryan, (who also attended Pitonyak's trial) says that the Spector jury left 15 minutes ahead of their designated ending time today & that the designated juror (aka "foreman") was smiling as they left.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Weeping Wooden Floor Syndrome

My mother used to tell me I had "such a vivid imagination!" I perceived the tone of her comment as a mixture of slight ridicule, amusement, & curiosity. Now, years later, I must say, she had a point!

Last week--yes, this is another cat-related story, but stay w/me for a minute (plus we've got a dog, too, so don't be put off if you're not a cat-lover.) I went in the kitchen to make coffee and almost stepped in a cat hairball. I cleaned it up and noticed another small wet spot on the wood floor & cleaned it up, too, assuming it was related to the cat hairball stuff.

A few minutes later, I noticed that same small spot was wet again--just looked like water. I cleaned it up again. I did this three times and finally starting wondering what was going on, especially because the cat wasn't even in the house then.

So, of course, the FIRST thing that popped in my head was, "hmmm...weird, the FLOOR seems to be weeping, I wonder why? How could something from the crawlspace be coming up into the interior floor, repeatedly, in such a small spot?" Before you think I'm completely nutty, I know that a previous owner of our house died in our house, so naturally it follows that the floor might weep, from sadness. Okay, now that does sound completely nutty.

So, I leaned over to wipe up the weeping floor again & felt a drop of liquid hit my head. I finally looked up to see a small leak in the ceiling. Turned out to be the A/C in the attic was leaking & was not that big a deal to fix. Don't know why I didn't think the CEILING could be weeping from sadness!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Moving On...

Laura Hall's trial's over for now. If she's released on bond pending appeal, I'm sure that news will hit the mainstream wires/airwaves very quickly.

I might attend Robert Springsteen's (so-called "Yogurt Shop Murders") retrial, which seems to be scheduled for January 2008, assuming I 'm in a position to take off work then.

You, too, can train your cat to stay out of the kitchen while you fix her food! It's just not rocket science--cats aren't THAT much different than dogs in this department, at least. Here's what you should do: cat runs into kitchen to food bowl & begins meowing incessantly & loudly & you're barely AWAKE, fumbling w/the can opener as said cat meows even louder & more incessantly.

Scoop up cat and toss her (gently) out of the room while saying, "OUT!" several times as you do it. Cat will immediately try to run back in as you're trying not to cut your sleepy fingers on the tin cat-food lid, requiring you to drop everything, chase & scoop up the darling kitty again, tossing her out of the room w/a firm "OUT!" After the cat stays out of the room, you say, VERY enthusiastically, "OKAY!" The cat might be momentarily confused, but just steer her to her food as you repeat, "okay!"

You'll probably have to repeat this whole annoying routine several times, but I swear, darling kitty eventually catches on & will stay out of your hair while you fix her food. And I have a reformed-feral cat, so I know it can be done w/other cats. Just thought I'd share...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Laura Hall Trial: Sentencing Phase Closing Arguments

The jury's made their decision, but I thought some snippets from the closing arguments might be of some interest.

Prosecutor Stephanie McFarland began by saying that last week, they (the prosecution) had asked the jurors to focus on Laura Hall's actions, and now the focus should be on the community's reaction. She said the State believes the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison is an appropriate sentence. Then she summarizes the judge's sentence-charging instructions, explaining what "community service" (probation) means, etc. I'm paraphrasing here, but McFarland then gives examples of "tampering with evidence" to show just how wide the range can be: from the guy that tries to kick away the last bit of the marijuana cigarette he's smoking when he sees police, to the person commits an armed robbery and drops the gun in the sewer, to mutilating a body.

Defense attorney Joe James Sawyer begins his closing argument by thanking the jurors for their hard work--14 hours of deliberations. He then reminds the jury that "you can't put a clock" on DNA, and for example, we have no way of knowing when Hall's DNA was placed on the sandal. He talks about how much he wishes he'd known about Jason Mack's story before the jury began deliberating in the guilt phase because it may or may not have changed their decision. Sawyer says, "You were denied that testimony." Urging the jury to give Hall probation, Sawyer believes "we must send someone to prison when we must," not someone "whose life can be salvaged." "You literally have someone else's life in your hands."

The prosecution ends with Bill Bishop's closing argument. He says that sentencing is designed for punishment in this case, not rehabilitation, that there is no rehabilitation for what Hall did. "There are no classes to take for rehabilitating that," Bishop continues. "Someone capable of that cannot be free on the streets," he says. Bishop explains that he used to think that burying a child was the worst thing a mother could ever go through but that having to bury a child in a closed casket is worse. Bishop ends by pointing out that, although they're not to consider lack of remorse in making their decision, what they can consider is what Hall said about Jennifer Cave a year after her murder.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Signing Off for Tonight

I'll try to post a few more details tomorrow late afternoon/evening. Thanks to those who have been following. My goal has been to present an objective, more in-depth, report of these trial proceedings (especially because the television reports are, by nature, forced to be very short and soundbite-oriented, and daily newspapers have limits, too.)

Laura Hall Sentencing Pronounced and (Part 4) More from Today

I doubt y'all particularly care about any of my personal stuff, but I must again give props to my husband Kurt for taking my quick message over the phone & posting it for me--(no reliable free wi-fi at the courthouse for me to post & I was bugging him at work.) And I only received one--they sometimes issue two or three--meter violation parking ticket today. I hope my co-workers (and Kurt) still recognize me tomorrow when I return to my regular life--ha ha.

Okay, so after I watched Sawyer's presser, I followed the other reporters downstairs to a conference room near the DAs' offices for the Cave family's press conference. Jim Sedwick, Sharon Cave's fiance, started off by thanking all the following:
--the jury for all the hard work--around 20 hours total by his watch
--Judge Flowers for the dignity w/which he conducted the proceedings (as well as his entire staff)
-- prosecutors Bill Bishop & Stephanie McFarland for putting in their "Herculean effort"
--all the victims' services people (I'm sorry, I didn't catch their names), as well as all the APD & EMS people
--the press, for recognizing & respecting the family's request for need for some space

Q&A, reporters & Cave family:
Sharon Cave said she hadn't made a victim's impact statement at CP's trial & has regretted it, that she wanted to point out the differences between Laura Hall and Jennifer Cave, that Jennifer had a beautiful heart & soul and that "we all know that Laura Hall does not." Sharon Cave answered a question about closure by saying that there's never really closure when your child has been killed in a violent crime, but "yes, it's done for now."

A reporter asked Sharon Cave how she felt about LH maintaining her innocence, & Cave replied, "She's a liar. She wouldn't know the truth if it hit her in the face."

Sharon Cave mentioned that, "I have allot I want to do in honor of Jennifer," but some of those details will be revealed later.

Sharon Cave & her fiance Jim Sedwick said they had wished for the maximum prison sentence for Hall, but were glad Hall got prison time. Sharon Cave continued, "I think Laura Hall is a very ill person...I think she's a sociopath & that she suffers from narcissistic disorder & is crazy as a loon & cannot be rehabilitated."

Sharon Cave said about Laura Hall, "when you look her in the eyes, there's nothing there..."

When a reporter asked DA Bill Bishop why he didn't call CP as a witness, Bishop said that he doesn't believe CP's story in the first place and that the prosecution didn't seek to admit Hall's police statements into evidence because they found them to be self-serving.

Sharon Cave made a point of saying how much she understood and empathized with the jurors' having to take on such a heavy burden throughout both trials and that she hoped they'd gone home, had a great dinner & were getting a good night's sleep tonight.


Oops, Just Remembered One Little Tiny Detail

that Doug Conley, the taxi driver who testified this morning, told me later in the day--he was hanging around for the sentencing verdict. Filling in some details that didn't come out in testimony today, Conley said that in the taxi ride he gave Hall in 8/05, he felt she really wanted him to know that she was smarter than needing to work at Baby Acapulco's and that she was also working for a Texas legislator--he wasn't sure if it was a senator or a rep--as a researcher.

Laura Hall Sentencing Pronounced and (Part 3) More from Today

Okay, back to this morning's testimony: defense's second witness, Jason Mack. Mack said he's 25 & works as a painter, having owned his business for about a year and that at age 17 he served some time in prison for burglary. Mack said that in August of 2005, he'd been living w/CP at CP's Orangetree condo #88 for about 3 months. During that time, he'd met Jennifer Cave and Laura Hall.

According to Mack, 2 days before Cave's murder, Hall came over to collect money she'd loaned CP the week before (that CP owed to some really bad guys.) Mack said that at that time, CP was really drunk and had run out of Xanax & was freaking out, but that "everyone there" was on something. Apparently CP had physically thrown LH outside onto the steps of the condo. Pitonyak said to Mack, (according to Mack) "this bitch is driving me fucking crazy" and then pulled his gun out of a (desk?) drawer. Mack tried to calm CP down--CP also mentioned that his mom was in town & that he had a test coming up--telling him to chill out. Mack said CP had been up for 9 days and that he thought CP would have used the gun on anyone at that point, that CP was delusional & crazy.

Mack said he finally convinced Hall to leave (CP's condo) w/him & that the two of them spent the night at a friend's place in south Austin, where they told Hall to stay away from CP or she was going to get herself killed.

Mack said he'd left his Texas ID/driver's license on CP's coffee table (because CP was so paranoid he insisted that Mack leave it) in order to briefly borrow CP's car. Mack said he'd reported the above incident to the Austin Police Department (APD) & was never contacted by APD.

Around 10:40 a.m., the jury retired to begin deliberations. Outside the courtroom, in the lobby, Laura Hall's mom approached me and said, "Are you Iris?"
I said yes, and she told me she's been reading my stuff. I kinda froze for a second, wondering what she thought. She told me she thought I was doing a good job in being objective. I told her I appreciated that because that's what I've been trying to do, present as fair & objective account as I can. She told me to keep up the good work.

In the next hour, I'm going to try to post some excerpts from the Cave family's post-verdict press conference. I'll also try to post some excerpts from both sides' closing arguments (sentencing phase) tomorrow, but it's tough to write down because they talk so quickly & continuously.

Laura Hall Sentencing Pronounced and (Part 2) More from Today

Gotta start chronologically from early this morning now. Right on time, court is in session. Defense attorney Joe James Sawyer puts on the record (outside the presence of the jury) his request (there's probably a more proper legal word for it) that both guilt-phase verdicts be set aside. Judge Flowers, "denied." I think this is something all defense attorneys do to preserve their record for appeal.

The State calls witness Doug Conley, who testifies that he is an Austin taxi driver who, around 9 a.m. on a Sunday in August 2006 received a dispatch to pick up an "Ashley" from the west campus area, around 28th and Rio Grande, and take her to the Barton Springs location of the restaurant/bar, Baby Acapulco's. He picked her up & began chatting w/her, asking her if she was a UT student. "Ashley" was Laura Ashley Hall, & she told him that she'd graduated from UT & was trying to get into law school but was having allot of trouble doing so because she had some pending felony charges.

Conley asked her what kind of felony charges? Hall said, "harboring a fugitive," to which Conley replied, "harboring a boyfriend? For what?" Hall said, "murder, but he's innocent." Conley asked who her boyfriend allegedly murdered. Hall replied, "I don't know, some bitch."

Conley was asked what his impression of Hall's demeanor was. He said, "cold, calculating," as if all the problems were (Jennifer Cave's) fault.

At this point, a CELL phone went off (HUGE no-no in court!) right beside me. I was horrified, knowing mine was turned off & realized it was Conley's & he'd left his bag right beside me. I grabbed his bag & ran out of the courtroom, leaving it with one of the local network's cameramen, not wanting to mess w/a strange cellphone. SO, I missed the end of Conley's direct testimony. Sawyer got up for cross exam and asked him if there was any tape recording of this conversation in his cab. Conley said no.

Later in the day I talked to Conley to get what I'd missed, plus he gave me more details that he said he'd forgotten about when he was on the stand. He had emailed the policeman listed as Conley's local Rosedale neighborhood association email list w/the information from his taxi conversation w/Hall. I asked him how he put together that Ashley was Laura Hall. Conley then remembered more of their conversation: he'd asked her something like, "how'd you harbor him?" and Hall said they went to Mexico & the reason she even needed a cab was because the police had confiscated her car.

Conley also offered to me (after his testimony on the stand) that Hall, overall, seemed annoyed she was being inconvenienced.

The State did not call any other witnesses.

The defense first calls Loren Hall. When asked who he is, Hall answers, "I'm her father," fighting back tears. He says that Laura grew up in a very small Texas town, Madisonville, until she was about 6 or 7 years old, when they moved to Crosby, Texas. He testified that she began participating in competitive swimming at age 7, a sport in which she participated into her college years at UT on the UT swim team until her asthma prevented her from continuing.

He further said that his daughter had played trombone through high school and as a high school freshman, joined the debate team, becoming their president and leading them to the national finals. She also attended summer debate camps because she always wanted to be a lawyer. Mr. Hall started to break down at this point & Sawyer reminded him to take his time.

Mr. Hall further testified that his daughter was on the UT rowing team and that she'd finished her degree. "I'm very proud of her for doing that," he said, especially considering she'd never passed college math & so got a math tutor and was able to raise her grade from a 24 to an 84 within 2 months.

Sawyer asked Mr. Hall if Laura's vocabulary/demeanor changed after she met CP. He said that yes, her vocabulary changed, that she started using lots of derogatory terms towards women, including, "bitch", "crack whore", and "stripper." Mr. Hall said that his daughter had been trying to build herself back up, just like she'd been able to do w/her math scores. He asked the jury to give her a chance, that she would prove herself worthy, and that anyone that could turn herself from a "battered, abused, bitter person" to someone working for lawyers & earning respect in that community deserves another chance (I'm paraphrasing the end of that part.)

More in a bit...

Laura Hall Sentencing Pronounced and (Part 1) More from Today

I'm working backwards here, because I presume most of you know by now that around 4:45 today, after approximately 6 hours of deliberation, the jury recommended that Laura Hall be sentenced to 5 years in prison w/no monetary fines. Judge Flowers accepted their recommendation. Hall's family showed little outward emotion that I observed. Hall, herself, appeared to look straight ahead (after being cuffed by a female sheriff's deputy) as she was guided out the door of the courtroom.

But shortly before Hall was led out of the courtroom, Jennifer Cave's mother, Sharon Cave, took the stand for "allocution," which is what most of us know as a victims' impact statement. Sharon Cave addressed Hall directly, saying there were some things she (Sharon) wanted Hall to know about the difference between Hall and Jennifer Cave. Sharon Cave said, among other things--sorry, I didn't catch every word--

"Unlike you, Laura, people loved Jennifer. Unlike you, Jennifer had a beautiful heart and a family who loved her. To use Sawyer's word, you are an odious thing. If there's a hell, I hope you burn in it! Because what you and Colton did was horrific."

The judge gave jurors the choice to stay and listen to the allocution or go back into the jury room. Four jurors stayed, one of whom was the presiding juror.

Afterwards, Hall's attorney, Joe James Sawyer, made a press statement. Among his statements and answers to reporters' questions were the following:

Sawyer's (& on behalf of Hall's family) overall reaction to sentence? ( not exact quotes but not too far off here, so I'm going to put them in quotation marks:)

"Disappointed--it's pretty weird when the defense wants their client's (police) statement/confession admitted into evidence and the State objects" (an objection sustained by Judge Flowers & preserved for appellate record by Sawyer.) Sawyer said they'd appeal within 30 days & try to get (within the next few days) an appellate bond set to get Hall out, pending her appeal and that Hall maintains her innocence, that "this story was spun by Colton and (perpetuated by) the media..."

"Disappointed because the police never interviewed Jason Mack...the police are supposed to investigate each and and every lead and they didn't do it! I couldn't find Mack: had he not been so disturbed & gotten himself here on his own dime, we might never had heard from him."

I must now back up here and describe Jason Mack's testimony, for the defense, from this morning, as well as the rest of this morning's testimony. But first I've got to take a break and eat. More later.

Jury Still Out, Going on Five Hours

State presented one witness; defense presented two. More later.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Penalty Phase of Laura Hall Trial

Friday, the lawyers on both sides told Judge Flowers they expected to need about 30 minutes (for each side) to present testimony in the penalty phase. So I guess that means the jury will start deliberating on their recommended sentence a little after 10 tomorrow morning.

I'll be there (and maybe tomorrow will be my last parking meter ticket for a long time.) I wonder who will testify tomorrow? I hope the jury will reach a sentencing decision more quickly than they did during the guilt phase... If the deliberations take awhile, I'll try to borrow one of the "real" reporters' computers to do a quick update post here. Otherwise, I'll post when it's all over.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Newcomers: Feel Free to Ask Questions

I haven't posted every little bit of testimony, because it seemed like more than 80 percent of the testimony presented in Hall's trial was recap of the testimony presented in Pitonyak's trial, and I'm assuming that people who are interested in Hall's trial also followed Pitonyak's. That said, I'm totally open to questions, because I attended both trials.

Q&A re Hall's Bond & Scott Engle's Testimony

I posted this in response to Bud's comments/questions, and I'm not sure people read the comments, so I thought I'd post the whole thing here.

Bud said:
Iris, Great question and answer section !!!

Here's a few more - 1) how do they determine who is escorted by a dedicated court appointed law enforcement officer? I guess to say it planner, what reaches a level of concern enough to warrant that? 2) Did Scott Engle testify and if so to what? 3) I guess this is kinda a question - why would the judge let someone who's has been shown to be a flight risk, free on bail? Was there any justification for that made any sense? 3) was there any mention of her Instant Messages to JC's little sister or any other members of JC's family? I heard an interview on another post and the comments were twisted and cruel. Can't understand why that stuff wouldn't have been brought out.

And foot note - after reading your last answer about her screen name. I looked it up and it is the name of a horror movie, in the lines of a Friday 13th type series. Really does seen more relevant than some of the other internet stuff.

Do you know what her weekend bail is? Did they ask her to surrender her passports or anything like that? I mean doesn't she seems like a flight risk, she did leave the country in an "on the run" episode.

Thanks Again,
August 31, 2007 11:39 PM

Iris said...
Hey Bud,

Hall's been out on bond, originally posted at (according to the Daily Texan) $175,000.00 for close to a year now, I think. I don't know if her bond was increased when the "tampering w/evidence" charges were filed against her.

The judge only said, "denied," when DA Bishop requested that Hall's bond be revoked and that she be taken into custody. He didn't ask/say anything about conditions, increased bond, flight risk, passports, etc.

I'm guessing that the reasoning is that if she were going to flee, she would have done it a long time ago, not on Labor Day weekend after she's been convicted & had lots of media scrutiny. That's just my guess.

Nothing about instant messages (IMs) was presented. Once again, I'm making an educated guess here, but IF they're going to come in, it would probably be during the sentencing phase, which begins Tuesday. That's when character witness testimony is usually allowed to be presented for both sides.

If the State had indeed attempted to introduce the alleged IMs during the guilt phase, they may have been overruled on grounds of relevance or on that more-prejudicial-than-probative rule. I wasn't present for any pretrial hearings, so I don't know...

Scott Engle did testify. Here's what I noted on direct exam from the prosecution:
Engle said that Jennifer Cave (JC) dated him (Engle) from around Jan '05 through July '05. In August '05, they were still friends.

Engle said he'd known Pitonyak (CP) since Jan '05 but hadn't seen him at all in Aug '05. On Monday, 8/15/05, Engle called Jennifer (JC) & on Tuesday (8/16/05) they'd talked again & JC was very excited about her new job at a law office, which she was to start the next morning.

On Wed, 8/17/05, around 2 p.m., Sharon Cave (Jennifer's mom) called Engle asking about JC because JC had not shown up to her first day of work. Sharon obtained all the cell phone numbers from JC's phone (because the account was in Sharon's name.) Later that afternoon, Sharon shared all JC's cell numbers with Engle, who identified CP's cell number.

Engle and/or Sharon Cave, (my notes are confusing at this point, sorry) called CP's cell twice, leaving messages that the police were on their way to his (CP's) apartment because they knew JC's car was parked there.

Around 6:30 p.m., CP answered his cell, sounding "jittery", according to Engle. Engle said he did not know Laura Hall.

Upon Sawyer's cross exam, Engle said that JC was not attracted to CP but wanted to help CP as a friend--she always wanted to help people. Engle also admitted that JC had said that CP had once held a knife to her throat.

Sawyer asks Engle if he thought CP was a mean guy? Engle says, "no, but maybe under the influence..."


September 1, 2007 4:55 PM