Monday, July 26, 2010

disappointing tomato season

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that my tomato yield has been so puny this summer, considering I started the plants out in too much shade. Then we were in Portugal for a few weeks, and although we did have a great housesitter who likes gardening, it's just not quite the same as watching over them yourself. Then the stinkbugs began their siege. Then the squirrels chomped my one and only heirloom. Neither bugs nor squirrels seem to care much about the cherry tomatoes so I am particularly grateful for the Sun Golds and Juliets.

I think that the Stinkbugs are to blame for ruining these Valley Girls
Squirrels ruined my one heirloom, an Old German
Hidden shallots, Valley Girls, one onion, and a hot banana pepper: yippee!
More Valley Girls, Sun Golds (that are red instead of gold--maybe plant mislabeled?), and more hot banana peppers
 I'm going to prune all the tomato plants and hope they produce a few Fall fruits. My basil, thyme, oregano, French sorrel, sage, and rosemary are all doing well. Today's rainfall was brief yet medium heavy, so maybe I won't have to haul the hose around for a few days!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

garden bloggers' bloom day

 No triple-digit days yet, but with lows of 77, highs of  97, and 65 percent  humidity, it's pretty miserable outside. Fortunately, we got some rain in the last two weeks, so some plants aren't too miserable. Make sure to visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens to see blooms from other parts of the world.
Texas sage (cenizo)

This island of Turk's Cap is much perkier this year.
Society Garlic in the vegetable garden
Spider Lily (Hymenocallis 'Tropical Giant')
Texas Bluebells (Lisianthus 'Mariachi Blue') and plumbago with balloon flower (Platycodon 'Miss Tilly') at right
This Torenia 'Purple Moon'  blooms April through October in part shade.
Also blooming today are white gaura, verbena, trailing purple lantana, confetti lantana, blackfoot daisy, Mexican bush sage (salvia leucantha), salvia farinacea 'Victoria Blue', and ruellia.

Friday, July 9, 2010

can't complain

Spider Lily (Hymenocallis 'Tropical Giant')
Four of the past eight days, we've had big soaking rains in Austin. And the rain cooled things off, especially yesterday afternoon, when it got down to 77 degrees. In July! I'll probably be complaining a little bit next week when it's back up to 98 with high humidity, but for now, I'm grateful and so is my garden.

This is my first time growing these Valley Girl tomatoes, and although I haven't tasted one yet, I'm pleased with their production--about 20 on one plant right now. My sungolds (cherry tomatoes) are still producing but have slowed down a little.    

I'm so excited about my first tiny tomatillo. It's the first time I've grown a tomatillo. I'd almost given up on it because the plant has gotten big and has lots of flowers, but until yesterday I couldn't find any fruit.

These banana peppers have been consistent, but their flavor is pretty blah.
In the foreground is lots of sweet basil. Behind the floppy Swiss chard is cinnamon basil and Red Rubin basil. My thyme, oregano, sage, and rosemary are all thriving, too.
Also in the vegetable garden  is this surprisingly tough Lisianthus 'Mariachi Blue' plus blue plumbago.

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.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

day three of Laura Hall re-sentencing trial

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.