Murder of Jennifer Cave
The murder of Jennifer Cave occurred in the West Campus area of Austin, Texas. On August 18, 2005, Cave's body was discovered. Chuck Lindell of the Austin American-Statesman said that it was the "most infamous West Campus crime". As of 2009, as the appeals process occurred, the case still made headlines in newspapers.
Jennifer Rae Cave originated from Corpus Christi, Texas. She was one of five girls in her family. She attended school in Bishop, Texas before moving to Corpus Christi in 2000. In 2002 she graduated from Mary Carroll High School in Corpus Christi and in August of that year she traveled to San Marcos, Texas to attend Texas State University (previously Southwest Texas State University) as a finance major. She dropped out after one semester and worked at a restaurant in Austin, Texas, while briefly attending Austin Community College, Riverside Campus. She sometimes used recreational drugs. Before her murder, she began to work for a law firm, as a legal assistant.
Perpetrator and accomplice
Colton Aaron Pitonyak was a finance major at the University of Texas at Austin, originating from Bryant, Arkansas in Greater Little Rock. Prior to coming to Austin, Pitonyak attended Christ the King School and Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was a National Merit Scholar, In the year 2000 Pitonyak was one of seven senior finalists at his high school and one of 166 senior finalists in the state. Pitonyak had high grades and earned a scholarship to attend UT Austin. He was a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity. Pitonyak had also once entered a rehabilitation program for drugs. In 2004 police found cocaine, prescription sleeping pills that he had unlawfully obtained, and anxiety medication in his apartment. He was arrested for possession of illegal drugs. Pitonyak had no previous record of violent crime. Authorities said that Cave and Pitonyak had no previous discord prior to the murder.
Laura Ashley Hall was a University of Texas at Austin student who at one time had been Pitonyak's girlfriend. Prior to Hall's re-imprisonment beginning in 2010, she lived in the area around Bandera, Texas with her parents. She had plans to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) so she could become a lawyer.
Jennifer Cave died in Pitonyak's apartment at the Orange Tree Condominiums, at 2529 Rio Grande Street in West Campus, Austin, Texas. Bill Bishop, a prosecutor in the Travis County, Texas government, said "As far as murders go, this is a very clean murder. He shot her through the arm, bullet traveled into the chest, through the heart pretty much killing her instantly. It was the post-murder behavior that made it so grotesque. The mutilation was anger… it wasn't any effort to hide the body or get rid of the body. It was just playing with it, like it was toy." Upon discovery, Cave's body had been partially dismembered and had many stab wounds. A hacksaw had been placed on her abdomen. After her death, she had been shot in the head once. Toxicology tests concluded that during her death, Cave had alcohol, marijuana, and methamphetamines in her system.
Discovery of the body
On the morning of August 17, 2005, the law firm where Cave worked called Cave's family to say that she did not show up for work. Sharon Sedwick, Cave's mother, and Jim Sedwick, her stepfather, discovered that she had been with Colton Pitonyak. Pitonyak told Sedwick that Cave was not around and asked them to leave him alone. On August 18 the Sedwicks traveled to Austin and found Cave's car at Pitonyak's apartment. Jim Sedwick called 9-1-1. The police said they could not search the apartment without a warrant. Jim Sedwick broke into the apartment after the police departed. After he discovered Jennifer Cave's body, Jim Sedwick called 9-1-1 again.
Escape and capture
On the day that Cave's body had been discovered, Colton Pitonyak and Laura Hall escaped from the United States, using Hall's automobile. Authorities found that the two had crossed into Mexico on August 18, 2005. The two were in Mexico for five days. A Mexican SWAT team discovered the two in a Holiday Inn in Piedras Negras, a city on the Mexico-United States border across from Eagle Pass, Texas, on August 23, 2005. The Mexican law enforcement drove the two to the Mexico-United States border. There, U.S. Marshals arrested Pitonyak. Hall was allowed to leave by herself.
On Monday January 29, 2007 Pitonyak, then 24, was convicted of murder. On the same day, the jury panel recommended a 55 year prison sentence for Pitonyak. Pitonyak received a 55 year sentence. Pitonyak will be eligible for parole when half of his sentence was served, when he is age 51. Outside of court, Jim Sedwick said, as paraphrased by Harriet Ryan of Court TV that "there was only a two-and-a-half-year functional difference between the jury's sentence and the life term. In Texas, those sentenced to life are eligible for parole in 30 years."
In 2007 Hall was convicted of tampering with evidence and hindering the apprehension of Pitonyak. The former charge originates from the dismemberment of Cave's body. She was sentenced to five years for the tampering and one year for the hindering, with the sentences to be served concurrently. Jordan Smith of the Austin Chronicle said "The relatively light sentence, after an emotional appeal from Hall's father, suggests that the delay in reaching a verdict reflected some division in the jurors' judgment of Hall's culpability. But Hall's trial, like Pitonyak's, in the end produced little understanding either of what really happened to young Jennifer Cave or, most especially, why her supposed friends ended her life with such brutal, emotionless, and unthinking cruelty." On February 19, 2009 the Texas Third Court of Appeals canceled her sentence. The court stated that her sentencing hearing was not fair. Hall was released on bond.
In 2010 a jury in Travis County, Texas sentenced Hall to the maximum possible sentence, including prison and $14,000 ($15140.85 when adjusted for inflation) in fines. The sentences, to be served concurrently, include ten years for tampering with evidence and one year for hindering apprehension. She would get credit for two years that she had already spent in confinement prior to the sentencing. On Monday February 8, 2010, Hall was placed in county custody prior to her new sentencing hearing. On August 3, 2010, Hall was taken into the custody of the state prison system, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). She was initially assigned to the Plane State Jail. On October 28, 2011, the state denied parole to Laura Hall. She became eligible again in November 2012.
Cave's visitation was held at the Seaside Funeral Home on Monday August 22, 2005 and the funeral was held at the All Saints Episcopal Church on Tuesday August 23. Cave was buried in a private ceremony.
Kathryn Casey wrote the book A Descent into Hell: The True Story of an Altar Boy, a Cheerleader, and a Twisted Texas Murder (ISBN 13: 9780061230875) about the crime. HarperCollins Publishers published the book.
- Casey, Kathryn. A Descent Into Hell. HarperCollins, October 13, 2009. ISBN 0061843563, 9780061843563.
- "Timeline for Jennifer Cave Murder." My Fox Austin. June 28, 2010. Retrieved on February 18, 2013.
- Lindell, Chuck. "Area west of UT relatively safe, officials say." Austin American-Statesman. July 26, 2009. Available on LexisNexis. "The most infamous West Campus crime was the August 2005 shooting death of Cave in the apartment of her friend, Colton Pitonyak, at 2529 Rio Grande St."
- Chirinos, Fanny S. "Suspect sought after murder." Corpus Christi Caller. Monday August 22, 2005. Retrieved on February 18, 2013.
- CBS News. "48 Hours Mystery: In Too Deep." CBS News. December 19, 2010. p. 2. Retrieved on February 18, 2013.
- Casey, p. 23.
- Ryan, Harriet. "Trial set for college student accused of slaying, dismembering woman after date." Court TV. January 26, 2007. 1. Retrieved on February 18, 2013.
- Casey, p. 39.
- Casey, p. 33.
- Ryan, Harriet. "Jurors find college student guilty of killing and dismembering woman, sentence him to 55 years." Court TV. January 30, 2007. Retrieved on February 18, 2013.
- Ryan, Harriet. "Trial set for college student accused of slaying, dismembering woman after date." Court TV. January 26, 2007. 2. Retrieved on February 18, 2013.
- Ryan, Harriet. "Trial set for college student accused of slaying, dismembering woman after date." Court TV. January 26, 2007. 3. Retrieved on February 18, 2013.
- "Laura Ashley Hall denied parole, again." Austin American-Statesman. Tuesday January 11, 2011. Retrieved on February 18, 2013.
- Tuma, Clara. "Laura Hall screams, begs to be released." KVUE. February 8, 2010. Retrieved on February 18, 2013.
- Smith, Jordan. "The Unexplained Death of Jennifer Cave." Austin Chronicle. Friday September 7, 2007. Retrieved on February 18, 2013.
- Kreytak, Steven. "Laura Hall asks for new review of convictions." Austin American-Statesman. Thursday June 11, 2009. Retrieved on February 19, 2013.
- CBS News. "48 Hours Mystery: In Too Deep." CBS News. December 19, 2010. p. 1. Retrieved on February 18, 2013.
- CBS News. "48 Hours Mystery: In Too Deep." CBS News. December 19, 2010. p. 3. Retrieved on February 18, 2013.
- Sadeghi, Chris. "Hall gets maximum sentence in Cave case." KXAN. Friday July 2, 2010. 1. Retrieved on February 18, 2013.
- CBS News. "48 Hours Mystery: In Too Deep." CBS News. December 19, 2010. p. 5. Retrieved on February 18, 2013.
- "Laura Hall's bid for parole denied." KXAN. Friday November 4, 2011.
- "Pitonyak, Colton Aaron." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on February 18, 2013.
- "Case No. D-1-OC-05-301918-A." (Archive) Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Posted by the Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved on February 18, 2013.
- "Hall, Laura." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on February 18, 2013.
- Bishop, Bill and Stephanie McFarland. "The murderer next door." (Archive) The Prosecutor. Texas District & County Attorneys Association. May-June 2007. Volume 37, No. 3.
- "A Descent into Hell: an altar boy, a cheerleader, and a twisted Texas murder." Kathryn Casey official website.
- "Former UT Student Sentenced To Prison For Gruesome Murder." KWTX. January 29, 2007.
- My Fox Austin Timeline of Jennifer Cave Murder Trial