Today's testimony didn't end until 7:15 p.m., after the defense presented its case and both sides rested and closed their evidence portion. The prosecution began this morning by showing snippets of statements Laura Hall made for CBS' "48 Hours Mystery" show. I apologize now for any errors, but I'm really tired now.
Then audio recordings of 19 phone calls Hall made from jail, which were recorded by the jail's phone system, were played. The jurors were provided transcripts to follow. Check out the content of many of the calls here, from Austin American Statesman's Steven Kreytak:
On cross exam, defense attorney Joe James Sawyer asked APD Detective Mark Gilchrest if these 19 recorded jail phonecalls were out of maybe a thousand and were redacted and edited, only parts of a complete canvas. Gilchrest said yes. Sawyer asked Gilchrest if he knew that Hall had been in the jail's intense psychiatric or general psychiatric unit the entire time she'd been incarcerated. Gilchrest said he didn't know.
Sawyer also asked, "There's no evidence that Laura Hall was present when Jennifer Cave was killed?" Gilchrest answered, "Correct."
The state's last three witnesses, whom all testified in Hall's 2007 trial, were Said Aziz II, Jim Sedwick, and Sharon Cave Sedwick. In addition to recounting their previous testimonies, Jim and Sharon Sedwick told the jury they took the threats made about them by Hall (heard on the jail calls and to which the victim services people had given them a heads' up) very seriously.
Jim Sedwick said that although he'd always owned rifles and hunting guns, he bought a handgun for the first time. Sharon Cave Sedwick said she was very uncomfortable being alone when Hall was not incarcerated and that she was afraid for her children and even her dog.
At 5:15, the prosecution rested their case. The defense called the first of their four witnesses, Dr. William Watson, who is an independent forensic DNA consultant. Watson explained that in the world of forensic DNA, a person that "can't be excluded" from a DNA profile doesn't mean the DNA actually came from that person but that it could have. He also said said that there's no way to determine when or how DNA got where it's found.
Defense co-counsel Amber Elliott asked Watson if anyone can say for sure that the DNA (found as Hall "cannot be excluded" in mixtures with Pitonyak on several items tested) is really Laura Hall's. Watson agreed that no one can say for sure that DNA is actually Hall's.
The second defense witness was one of Pitonyak's 2007 trial lawyers, Sam Bassett. He testified that in preparation for Pitonyak's trial, he met with Nora Sullivan for about 45 minutes regarding her conversation with Pitonyak on her balcony at 3 a.m. the morning of Cave's murder and some timeline issues. He said he asked Sullivan if Hall (who had accompanied Sullivan to the jail when Sullivan visited Pitonyak) had ever said anything about her (Hall's) involvement in Cave's murder or dismemberment. Sullivan told him she didn't recall anything like that.
The next witness, Jason Mack, wasn't available to testify in person, so Sawyer and Elliott read his 2007 trial testimony into the record.
The last defense witness was Loren Hall. Sawyer first asked Hall what his relationship was to Laura Hall. Hall said "I'm her father." He choked up as he said it. He said Laura Hall had never gotten into any trouble or had any violations when she'd been out on personal bond. He said one of the first things his daughter did when she got out on bond was to begin laser treatments to get the "Colton" tattoo removed from her leg.
Sawyer asked Loren Hall if his daughter had ever been diagnosed with any mental disorders or illnesses. Hall teared up and said, "Bipolar," adding that his daughter went from one extreme to another. At that point, Laura Hall started crying. Loren Hall said that his daughter was not the same person heard on the jail audio tapes earlier today and that she'd had adjustments in medications to control her bipolar disorder.
Sawyer asked if Hall understood the terms of potential probation and its risks. Hall said yes and that he understood there were programs to assist the mentally ill. Hall then told the jury that Laura Hall will meet the conditions of probation. Both Loren and Laura Hall were crying.
On cross exam, prosecutor Wetzel's first question of Loren Hall was, "Did her bipolar condition cause her to cut off the head of Jennifer Cave?" Hall said he knows his daughter's innocent of everything and began to talk about his feelings about findings of past prosecutorial miscounduct. Wetzel cut him off, saying "Answer yes or no," and explained his job as a witness.
When asked if he understood his daughter had been found guilty of tampering with evidence, the evidence being the mutilation of Jennifer Cave's body, Hall said, "I don't get that part...I heard nothing about her dismembering Jennifer Cave's body." Hall said he knows his daughter "feels sorry for the Cave family."
Wetzel asked him if he heard the jail calls this morning, in which Laura Hall calls Sharon Cave a bitch. Hall said his daughter had been under many different medications.
Wetzel asked if Hall had "done anything to make it more or less likely she (Laura Hall) will follow the rules of the court?" Hall asked if Wetzel meant past or future, and Wetzel said past. Hall said, "I made sure she got proper medical care."
Wetzel said Hall had no respect for the legal system, this court, or the people involved in it. Loren Hall said he had respect for the legal system, just "not some of the people that manipulate it..." Wetzel asked if he had the same "obscene references" to people involved in this court that his daughter does. Hall said, "I don't think so."
Wetzel asked Hall if he was aware of his daughter's interest in violent deaths. Hall said he didn't know, that he didn't talk to his children about violent deaths. Then Hall said to Wetzel, "...maybe you do (talk to your children about violent deaths), but I don't." Wetzel pointed out the phone conversation between Laura Hall and the unknown male, in which Hall says she thinks the mall suicide he witnessed is exciting.
Wetzel asked if "we can count on you and your wife" to make sure Laura Hall stays on a straight path if she were to get probation. Hall replied that they were confident their daughter would continue her current record of staying out of any trouble.
Wetzel pointed out that in 2005, Loren Hall tried but was not able to stop his daughter from staying out of trouble. Hall said he has a better relationship with Laura Hall now than 2005 and that "if she (Laura) had been on medication then, none of this would have happened."
Hall said that prayer, proper medical care, and therapy, along with their large support group, would be the best way to help his daughter stay out of trouble. He said, "In the last three years, when she's been out on bond, she's never gotten into any trouble. She's always been a good daughter." He added that, whether or not they believe him, his heart goes out to the Cave family. He said "I believe our daughter's innocent... I think we're victims, too...Everyone's a victim here."
The defense closed and both sides closed the evidence portions of their cases.
Closing arguments are tomorrow morning, then the case will go to the jury.