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. In 2009, Chuck Lindell of the Austin American-Statesman called it the "most infamous West Campus crime".
Jennifer Rae Cave moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, in high school. 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 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. 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. Before 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, and in 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. 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 before the murder.
Laura Ashley Hall was a University of Texas at Austin student who at one time had been Pitonyak's girlfriend. Before 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 a 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 methamphetamine 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 18th, 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 border. There, U.S. Marshals arrested Pitonyak. Hall was allowed to leave by herself.
On August 23, 2005, Colton Pitonyak was charged with murder. Laura Hall was arrested in September 2005. 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. He will be eligible for parole once 50% of his sentence has been served, at which time he will be around 51 years old. Outside 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 ordered re-sentencing. The court ruled that her sentencing hearing was unfair and Hall was released on bond.
In 2010, a jury in Travis County, Texas resentenced Hall to the maximum possible sentence, including prison and $14,000 ($16614.99 when adjusted for inflation) in fines. The sentences, to be served concurrently, include 10 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.
In 2014, Hall was denied parole by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. In 2016, Laura Hall was still incarcerated in the Lockhart Unit. On March 15, 2018, she was released on parole from prison under mandatory supervision, including GPS monitoring, and could not return to Travis County or to make any contact with the Cave family until after the end of her prison sentence, which was in August of the same year.
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.
In 2008, Kathryn Casey wrote the book A Descent into Hell: The True Story of an Altar Boy, a Cheerleader, and a Twisted Texas Murder (ISBN 9780061230875) about the crime. HarperCollins Publishers published the book.
In 2011, 48 Hours on CBS documented the murder and the aftermath as well as the trial, focusing on Laura Hall in a special called "48 Hours: In Too Deep".
In 2020, A seven-part podcast called "The Orange Tree," published by The Drag, which is an audio production house at the University of Texas, took a deep dive look at Jennifer's life, the trials and the appeals.
Murders in the Austin area:
- 1991 Austin yogurt shop murders
- Murders of John Goosey and Stacy Barnett - Also in West Campus
- Celeste Beard
- 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 Archived 2013-01-20 at the Wayback Machine." 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 Archived 2013-04-11 at archive.today." 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 February 18, 2013.
- CBS News. "48 Hours Mystery: In Too Deep", CBS News (December 19, 2010), pg. 5; retrieved February 18, 2013.
- "Laura Hall's bid for parole denied." KXAN. Friday November 4, 2011.
- "Pitonyak, Colton Aaron Archived 2016-01-07 at WebCite" (Archive). Texas Department of Criminal Justice; retrieved January 9, 2014.
- "Case No. D-1-OC-05-301918-A." (Archive) Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Posted by the Austin American-Statesman; retrieved February 18, 2013.
- "Laura Hall denied parole". KVUE. August 14, 2014. Archived from the original on July 14, 2015. Retrieved July 4, 2015.
- Goudeau, Ashley (March 15, 2018). "Person involved in 2005 murder of Jennifer Cave released on parole". KVUE. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
- Huber, Mary (September 22, 2018). "Laura Hall, involved in 2005 West Campus murder of Jennifer Cave, out of prison". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
- Bishop, Bill and Stephanie McFarland. "The murderer next door." (Archive) The Prosecutor. Texas District & County Attorneys Association. May–June 2007. Volume 37, No. 3.
- Smith, Jordan. "Pitonyak Seeks New Trial in Jennifer Cave Murder Case." Austin Chronicle. October 25, 2013.
- Ulloa, Jazmine. "Appeals court denies Colton Pitonyak a new trial." Austin American-Statesman. Wednesday October 16, 2013.
- Ulloa, Jazmine. "Court review could be Pitonyak’s last chance for new trial." Austin American-Statesman. August 25, 2013.
- "Woman sent to prison after gruesome West Campus murder to be released". KXAN. 2014-03-14.
- "Laura Hall, involved in 2005 West Campus murder of Jennifer Cave, out of prison". Austin American-Statesman. 2018-08-23.
- "Appeal denied for Austin man in jail for 2005 murder". KXAN. 2015-01-28.
- "Man Convicted Of 2005 West Campus Murder Fighting For New Trial". CBS Austin. 2013-08-27.
- "West Campus murder case back in court". KXAN. 2013-08-27.
- "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-TV. January 29, 2007.
- My Fox Austin Timeline of Jennifer Cave Murder Trial