Wednesday, June 30, 2010

day two of Laura Hall's re-sentencing trial

Today I was especially looking forward to hearing any new testimony I hadn't heard during Laura Hall's or Colton Pitonyak's 2007 trials, and that finally happened in the afternoon session, when some jail witnesses and jail psychiatric counselors testified.
The first senior psychiatric counselor from Travis County's Del Valle jail testified that in September 2005, two inmates made statements to her regarding things Hall allegedly said to them and that she made a memo of those statements at the time.
The first former inmate, who was convicted of a felony as a minor but is now on probation, testified that she was housed in the same unit as Hall in September 2005. She testified that she had a few conversations with Hall, in which Hall said she (Hall) didn't know why she was in jail.
The former inmate said that from Hall, she understood Jennifer Cave to be Hall's "boyfriend's girlfriend" and that Hall referred to Cave as a "fucking bitch and a stripper" that Hall was angry her "boyfriend was cheating on her with her (Cave)." She also testified that Hall said the "eeriest part was cutting her bone."  She said she reported the conversation to the jail counselor.
The second former inmate, who was convicted of felony burglary of a building in 2006 and a 1993 misdemeanor larceny charge, was also an inmate in Del Valle in the same unit as Hall in September 2005. She testified she had no direct conversations with Hall but that in a voluntary group therapy session of more than five inmates, Hall said "the whore was just a dancer and she deserved to die."
She said she reported Hall's statement to the jail counselor on the same day. The private investigator for Pitonyak's current appellate attorney, Joe Turner, contacted both former inmates. Apparently, based on the private investigator's interviews with these inmates, Turner wrote out affidavits that each signed.
On cross exam, defense attorney Joe James Sawyer elicited that this inmate had relied on Turner's notes to remember most of the content of her original statement. She testified today that she is now uncomfortable with the word "confessed" in her original affidavit. It was unclear exactly in what context the word "confessed" appeared because her affidavit was not presented as evidence.
The afternoon's next surprise was when Hall's former 2005 cellmate, Henriette Langenbach, testified. In Hall's trial, Langenbach testified that Hall talked to her frequently when they shared a cell and that when she asked Hall how she could cut up a body, Hall said, "How many grandmothers can tell their grandchildren that they cut up a body?"  
Today, Langenbach backed off her earlier testimony, saying that Hall never told her that she (Hall) was actually physically involved in mutilating Cave's body. Much of Langenbach's testimony today was consistent with her 2007 trial testimony
On cross exam, Sawyer wrangled with Langenbach about the timing of her turning over her notes of conversations with Hall, implying she took the notes as a calculated way of getting herself a better plea deal.
Another witness from Hall's 2007 trial, Javier Rosales, today appeared to back off from some of his former testimony, too. In his 2007 testimony, Rosales, who was a co-server with Hall in the summer of 2006 at Baby Acapulco's restaurant, said Hall told him "she helped him do it" then masterminded her and Pitonyak's escape to Mexico. 
Today, Rosales testified that Hall never directly spoke of mutilating Cave's body. However, Rosales was consistent today in his testimony from 2007 that Hall said Cave's murder was "a victimless crime."
The prosecution's case seems to be winding down. Tomorrow morning they will begin by playing some snippets from interviews Hall granted CBS' "48 Hours Mystery" show, and then I think they'll play audio tapes of calls Hall made from jail. Guessing the defense case will begin late tomorrow morning or early afternoon.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

day one of Laura Hall's re-sentencing trial

Why is a re-sentencing trial happening? An appeals court upheld the 2007 conviction of Laura Hall for misdemeanor fleeing apprehension and felony tampering with evidence associated with the 2005 murder and mutilation of Jennifer Cave; however, the court overturned her 5-year sentence based on its finding of prosecutorial misconduct during the punishment phase of the 2007 trial. Colton Pitonyak was convicted of the murder of Jennifer Cave and received a 55-year sentence.
This morning in state District Judge Wilford Flowers' courtroom, the new trial (for sentencing purposes only) began. The new jury began to hear much of the same testimony from many of the same witnesses that I heard in Hall's and Pitonyak's trials. 
This time around, the prosecutors are Allison Wetzel and Chris Baugh instead of Bill Bishop and Stephanie McFarland, who were the prosecutors in Pitonyak's and Hall's 2007 trials. Hall's defense attorney is Joe James Sawyer.
Jennifer Cave's mother, Sharon Cave Sedwick, and Sedwick's husband Jim sat in the front row of the prosecution side, along with the victims' services women and Stephanie McFarland. Laura Hall's parents and a few other family members sat in front on the defense side. Hall, dressed in a black suit with a white blouse, was led to the defense table by a sheriff's deputy.
In Wetzel's opening statement, she urged the jury to consider what "price to put on these two crimes" and "what price to put on her (Hall's) conduct", to focus not only on the crime "but the criminal, what kind of person she is..." Wetzel said that during Hall's periods of incarceration, "she has made phone calls from jail" (which are all recorded) that the jury will hear and that will help them decide "whether she's a person who is a danger to society." 

Wetzel told the jury that the prosecution is seeking the maximum sentence, 10 years in prison.

Defense attorney Joe James Sawyer began his opening statement by telling the jury that, although a jury convicted Hall, whether Hall is guilty is a matter to be determined by a future appeals court. Wetzel immediately objected and asked the judge to instruct the jury to disregard that statement. The judge sustained her objection and instructed the jury to disregard.
Sawyer told the jury that they should be concerned with the truth. He said that Pitonyak "had degenerated into such a sociopath" that he destroyed himself and everyone around him and that he was a "drug-dealing, street-talking sociopath that had become obsessed with killing someone."

Sawyer told the jury to really focus on the motives and credibility of the witnesses, including the witnesses from jail, and especially Nora Sullivan (not a jail witness), who was Pitonyak's condo neighbor and friend. Sawyer finished by asking the jury to come back with the verdict that gives Hall probation.

Sullivan testified today, and Sawyer's cross examination of her was fiery. She seemed to hold her own. When Sawyer asked Sullivan if she was helping Pitonyak's attorneys on his current appeal, flying all the way here from California home, she said, "Yes. It (the flight) was paid for." 

At Pitonyak's trial, Sullivan testified that Pitonyak knocked on her door around 3 a.m. the night of Cave's murder, asking to borrow her phone and telling a crazy story about having just been involved in a "shootout with three Mexicans" in his condo and that he'd fired two shots. 

Sullivan testified that Pitonyak, who was carrying a Smith and Wesson 380 semi-automatic pistol, seemed drunk but functional and that she didn't believe his shootout story at all, especially because her condo was only about 150 feet from his and she would have heard the shots.
At Hall's trial, Sullivan also testified that, while Pitonyak was in the 10th street county jail awaiting trial, Hall went with Sullivan to visit Pitonyak, although Hall had to stay in the waiting room because she wasn't allowed to contact him. Sullivan testified that after that, she and Hall occasionally talked and that Hall told her that the afternoon after Cave's murder, Hall was annoyed because she had to keep urging Pitonyak to get back to cutting up Cave's body. Cave's head and hands had been severed from her body when her body was discovered.

Sawyer implied that the reason Sullivan had never before mentioned (in previous police interviews and court testimony) the alleged Hall comment until Hall's trial is because Sullivan is such good friends with Pitonyak that she'd say anything to "help" him and that she partly blames Hall for Pitonyak's conviction. Sullivan says she never mentioned the Hall comment because she wasn't asked until shortly before Hall's trial.

The prosecution's case resumes tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

last Portugal post: graffiti and food

We're back home from our Lisbon trip, but it's too hot to do a proper home garden assessment right now. Maybe after I catch up on watering, I'll feel more like taking pictures. But not today. So here's the last of Lisbon. 
In the apartment we made our own salads and ate them with tasty Portuguese sheep cheese and white wines.

really big bottle tree outside the modern art museum

Most of the traditional Portuguese restaurants automatically served these little tins of sardine pate and bread.
After eating out and tiring of cod and potatoes, we made black beans and guacamole and tomato rice.
grouper with mushroom cream sauce and potatoes at a restaurant in Belem

fried fish--forgot which kind--with tomato rice at the same Belem restaurant

blogger refused to post this guy right side up

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

garden bloggers' bloom day from Portugal

Day 15 here in Lisbon and we’ve done plenty of exploring. Not pictured here, but we’ve seen lots of oleander, gray santolina, bougainvillea (purple, pink, and orange-ish), and lantana (confetti, purple, and red-orange-yellow). Please visit Carol’s blog at May Dreams Gardens to see other blooms from all over the place! Sorry for not including botanical names but we have limited internet access, so I didn’t look them up.

huge variegated agave

green santolina

some variety of fuschia in the botanical garden (sorry I forgot to write down which kind)

familiar purple coneflower

cannas in another public garden

more agapanthus (They're all over Lisbon. Not complaining!)

unknown succulents at the huge cemetery

lively windowbox in Alfama neighborhood

Monday, June 7, 2010

Ubiquitous lantana, even here in Portugal

Greetings from lovely Lisbon—our first visit! We’re staying in a vacation apartment rental in the city center overlooking the busy Rossio square and have great views from three sets of double full-lite doors.

We’ve never done the international apartment rental thing before, but this one’s working out well, especially because we can sleep late and make our own breakfast in the kitchenette. Also, it’s nice to have the option of cooking here whenever, because there are two national holidays this week and one last week when many restaurants (and our corner supermercado) are closed.

Weather’s been sunny and warm but not really hot, plus there always seems to be a good breeze. Heavenly.

I'm a sucker for hydrangeas.

More lantana. That’s not a cloud above; there was a big fire somewhere in the Mouraria neighborhood today while we were exploring the Alfama neighborhood.

Huge wall of morning glories?

Love these purple mimosa trees, Jacaranda Mimosifolia, native to Argentina but adapted here, and found on many downtown streets.

Closeup of purple mimosa tree


Some relative of agapanthus? The graffiti refers to Portugal’s national champion soccer team, Benfica, some of whose members we think will be playing in the World Cup.

Big thanks to our stellar house-, garden-, and pet-sitter, Raphael, who happens to have a Portuguese grandmother who lives outside Lisbon.

We have a limited daily internet allotment at this apartment, so I may not get to comments promptly but will try. Salud!