Friday, July 2, 2010

final day of Laura Hall re-sentencing trial

The maximum verdict of 10 years in prison plus $14K in fines was announced by the presiding juror today around 4:25, after the jury deliberated for more than 5.5 hours. There were nine sheriff's deputies positioned in Judge Flowers' courtroom for the reading of the sentencing verdict. 

I've never seen the presiding juror choose to read the verdict rather than allowing the judge to read it. I've also never seen a jury include the maximum fines in their verdict. Mr. and Mrs. Hall left as soon as the sentencing verdicts were read. Judge Flowers allowed one television camera to tape the closing arguments and the verdict, so I think some of the local affiliates--KVUE, KXAN, KEYE, News8Austin, and KTBC--have some of it on their websites.

The sentences run concurrently, so Laura Hall will get credit for the approximately two years' jail time she's already served.

Closing arguments this morning lasted a little more than an hour. Assistant DA Chris Baugh began by telling the jury, "She is it or not." He said that the prosecution was asking for the maximum 10-year sentence because by law, that's all they can ask for, although they want more. One by one, he showed the jury graphic autopsy photos of Jennifer Cave's mutilated body while asking, "How do you rehabilitate a person who would do this?" Some jurors looked away from the photos. 

Baugh asked the jury if the mutilation was meant to hide Cave's identity or "is this just evil?" He continued, "Was Laura Hall not saying 'F-you' to Jennifer Cave? Was Laura Hall not saying 'F-you' to her family?"

Baugh said that Hall has "threatened almost every person" in this court and that he has "no doubt I'll be added to the list." He asks the jury to impose the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, especially so that Jennifer Cave's family can have some relief, at least for awhile.

Defense co-counsel Amber Elliott then began. "Trials are about evidence and the law, not emotion...They're about reason and the facts." Elliott said there is no emotion in science, which in this case is the DNA. She said that the DNA experts from the prosecution and defense disagree on which items should have been tested and the interpretation of the results. 

Elliott said, "No one can say that DNA is Laura Hall's..." and urged the jury to focus on "where the (Hall's) DNA is not found: the machete, the hacksaw, and the buck-knife." "The DNA tells us who did this: Colton Pitonyak," Elliott said.

Defense attorney Joe James Sawyer began by reminding the jury that people are wrongly convicted and that there's a difference between "actually guilty" and convicted. He said there are "two batches of evidence", one being the "look how terrible she is batch." He said the 19 jail phone calls the prosecution played were out of perhaps thousands, with certain lines picked to play. Sawyer asked the jury, "We know she's bipolar; do you think that leads to reasoned analysis?" He added that many people, "if in jail wrongly convicted" would also be bitter and angry and curse and say terrible things.

Sawyer continued, "Then there is evidence from the Sedwicks." He reminded the jury that he didn't ask the Sedwicks any questions when they testified yesterday because "they're entitled to tell their story" and that he can't imagine the horror of losing a child to murder, especially with the added horror of what was done to Jennifer Cave's body. He said that if the jury was basing its sentence on the Sedwick's grief and torment, "then 10 years, 100 years is not enough..."

Sawyer told the jury that the people doing the convicting in this case were the "she-said witnesses", led by Nora Sullivan, who "we know lies." He talked about other "she-said" witnesses--Henriette Langenbach, the two jail witnesses, and the jail witnesses' psychiatric counselor. 

Sawyer reminded the jury that whomever did the mutilation had the time, commitment, and strength to carry it out, and that person was Colton Pitonyak. He asked the jury for probation and said "we should punish people for things they've really done", not for what we think they've done.

Prosecutor Allison Wetzel told the jury that, in considering punishment versus rehabilitation, they should remember "the nature of the crime." "Rehabilitation is not under your control; it's up to her," Wetzel said, adding that protection of society is the overriding role of our justice system. She talked about how Langenbach is a crook, but a crook who knew that what she was hearing from Hall wasn't right and that she had to tell someone, plus she knew lots of details that weren't widely reported.

Wetzel said she wasn't going to defend Nora Sullivan, who is a friend of Hall and Pitonyak, and seems to have some "screwed-up values." "Nora is stingy with information," Wetzel said, adding that Sullivan was protecting Pitonyak, a "dope dealer." Wetzel said that although Sullivan won't give you answers unless you ask the right questions, her story is corroborated by phone records.

Wetzel continued, "Laura Hall was in love with a gangster drug dealer--that's who she's attracted to." "Colton Pitonyak is bad and evil: Laura Hall and Colton Pitonyak have that in common." Wetzel said that Laura Hall's father testified that Hall had a mental illness but that everyone's going to have to rely on him because no mental health professional testified. Wetzel said that Hall doesn't have a mental illness; she's a "sociopath."

Judge Flowers then read instructions to the jury and sent them to deliberate around 10:20 a.m.

Back to regular life and lots of weed-pulling for me now. Grateful for the rain this week because I didn't have the time or energy to water the garden while attending the trial. I was planning to sleep in tomorrow, but I want to watch Wimbledon and World Cup, so I'll just sleep in a teensy bit.


Geoff said...

Thanks Iris!

Iris said...

Geoff--You are quite welcome. I appreciate the nice comment.

k said...

Yes, you do an excellent job reporting! I've looked forward to reading this everyday.

Kathryn Casey said...

Enjoyed seeing you again, Iris. Great blog.

Iris said...

k--Thanks! I try to do a good job. Glad you looked forward to my posts.

Kathryn--Thanks so much! Enjoyed seeing and talking to you again, too. Hope you felt like you were there by reading my account of the closing arguments: occasionally I became so mesmerized (by both sides) that I spaced out and forgot to take notes!

Anonymous said...

Good job summarizing the closing arguments. I had to stand outside and watch it on the computer screen of one of the news techs.

Iris said...

wytx--Thank you! I particularly appreciate that you think I did a good job because you, too, heard the closings. I tried my best to give equal coverage to both sides. I thought both sides' closings were powerful, didn't you?

Bob said...

It's much better reading what you have to say then getting it in the papers. I just believe what you say as you just put the facts and don't try to sensationalize it to sell more papers. Thanks, Bob

Iris said...

Bob--I truly appreciate your comment! I try really hard to kind of be like a camera in the courtroom, so readers can draw their own conclusions and maybe learn a little about our legal system.

Ray said...

Found your blog, and enjoyed reading it, if after the fact. I was there too ... talked to you a bit a couple of times, including the time you lost your seat! Have to say that the whole experience there kind of wore me out, even as a spectator.

Iris said...

Hi Ray--Thanks! Enjoyed talking to you and your son. It wore me out, too. Can't imagine how exhausted the families must have been.

Lynell said...

Wow! Really lucid reporting of quite a twisted tale. Damn! Seems like 10 years is not enough, IMHO. You must have been really spent after your days in the courtroom! Fascinating reading, Iris.

Iris said...

Thanks, Lynell. I was definitely spent at the end of each court day!

MDBlogspot said...

I just saw the 48 hours account of this travesty. I see two main victims in all this- Jenniffer Cave and Lauren Hall. I'm a psychiatrist, and see humanity play out on a daily basis. Reality, unfortunately is often made tragic by misinterpretation. People commonly misinterpret and pervert reality when they view the world and others through their own faulty lenses. I can understand the anger of the Cave family, but I can also understand the anger of Lauren Hall towards the Cave family for misdirecting their grief at Lauren Hall, who in reality is a victim of the same man who murdered their daughter. Lauren Hall is far from a psychopath. She went into a state of shock and paranoia when she saw the dead body. She was afraid for her life, and acted in the best way she knew how to act for a girl her age, with a background of victimization and emotional mistreatment. She inherently has a kind heart, but her road of emotional pain led her to be attracted to a real psychopath. Ironically, the jury bought the real psychopath's story, and chose to revictimize the already emotionally battered Lauren Hall. The fact that the man who murdered Cave charmed the Jury and the Cave family into believing Hall was guilty of such an atrocity only solidifies my belief that he is the real psychopath in all this, and indeed Lauren Hall is just another victim. A human tragedy all around. Everyone in this one was the victim of a psychopath murderer- Jennifer Cave, Lauren Hall, the parents of Jennifer Cave, the DA, the Jury. HE alone has the last laugh. Such a sad story. I hope Lauren Hall finds redemption. I hope that some day she gets to go to law school, becomes a lawyer, and fights for the innocent and the victimized, those who are so often sacrificed by humanity in the name of humanity.

Anonymous said...


Did you watch the same program that I did??? She came off as totally uncaring about the victim, and took absolutely no responsibility whatsoever for her involvement. She made threats to the victim's family over the phone. She's not a victim. She's a sociopath.