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.


k said...

Oooh, this sounds fascinating. I wish I could go! It is so strange how such confused and disorganized mayhem ends up in a highly organized, formal and rigid structure like the court system.

Thanks for posting!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for going. Just knew you'd be there! As you know, I've always felt LH did this while CP was blacked out. Wish they would charge her with the murder. Do you know if they can now ?

Take Care,

Iris said...

k--You're welcome!

Bob--I've heard nothing about a murder charge, and certainly nothing has been presented in court, as this is only a re-sentencing trial: her conviction has been upheld. However, Pitonyak's appellate attorney seems to be uncovering some witness statements that point the finger at the possibility of Hall being the shooter. Who knows where that will go.