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 guilty...like 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.