AUSTIN (KXAN) - After five years of emotional legal wrangling in the wake of theviolent West Campus killing of a UT student, a Travis County jurysentenced Laura Hall to a collective 11 years in prison and $14,000in fines.
The sentence was the maximum possible for dismembering JenniferCave's body, for which Hall had been convicted in 2007.
Cave's mother sobbed into her hands as the verdict came down at4:25 p.m. Before it was read, Judge Will Flowers instructed theaudience to keep a handle on their emotions.
Cave's family began hugging each other as Hall showed littleemotion during the verdict.
"I hate the word 'closure.' I hate that word," said Sharon CaveSedwick, the victim's mother. "Satisfied? How can you be satisfiedwhen your child is gone, when your child is dead? There is nosatisfaction. Do I feel justice has been done, the system hasworked? Yes. That's what we all have to strive for, when you havesomething like this. It may not be the best system, but it's apretty damn good one."
Hall's father continued to proclaim his daughter's innocence,and that the jury's sentencing - and earlier guilty verdict threeyears ago - didn't mean she wasn't.
"Its really disappointing," Loren Hall said. "My daughter isinnocent. No matter what the system says. I've talked to otherlawyers out here, and they say 40% of the people in penintentiariesare innocent. You still feel she's innocent? I know she is."
The jury gave Hall one year for a charge of hinderingapprehension and 10 years for the charge of tampering withevidence. She is expected to serve the two sentences concurrently,and get credit for the two years she's already spent behindbars.
"I guess that 'Not Guilty party' has been cancelled," saidprosecutor Allison Wetzel, referring to remarks by Laura Hall inphone conversations.
Hall was convicted of helping Colton Pitonyak dismember the bodyof Jennifer Cave after the 2005 killing.
The jury had the option of sentencing Hall a maximum of tenyears in prison or a minimum punishment of probation.
Jennifer Cave’s family testified on Thursday that theirfamily lives in fear and only feels safe when Hall is incarcerated.Loren Hall, Laura’s father, pleaded to the jury that if givenprobation, his daughter and her family can be rehabilitated.
The judge is allowing a camera inside the courtroom for closingarguments and the sentencing.
Hall did not take the stand in her defense. Her father, LorenHall, testified that his daughter had bipolar disorder and askedthe jury to sentence her to probation.
A jury convicted Hall in 2007 of helping former University ofTexas student Pitonyak dismember Cave's body in a West Campusbathtub at the Orange Tree condominiums. Pitonyak is serving 55years for the slaying.
However, the Texas Third Court of Appeals threw out herfive-year sentence on Feb. 19, 2009 . Meanwhile, Pitoynak isserving 55 years for the killing of his friend and UT peer, then 21- whose mother's boyfriend found her body. The jury is deliberatingon two charges: Tampering with evidence, and hinderingprosecution.
Judge Wilforn Flowers is taking care of other cases on thedocket before resuming with the jury trial. He has giveninstructions that the prosecution and defense will have 30 minuteseach for their closing statements.
Laura Hall enters the courtroom as Judge Flowers discusses withthe prosecution the media which will be used for the closingarguments.
After that discussion ends, the jury enters the courtroom.
Prosecutuion begins their opening statement.
Prosecutor Chris Baugh is speaking with the jury and adamentlyasks the jury to give Hall ten years.
"How do you rehabilitate a person who would do this?" saysBaugh as he shows pictures of the crime scene to the jury.
While showing the pictures to the jury he asks "Is this to hideidentification or is it just evil?"
"What has the defendent done to show us she could berehabilitated? Zero."
He repeats callous quotes attributed to Hall that she made aboutJennifer Cave and the Cave family while in jail.
"This is not about Colton Pitonyak. This woman has threatenedthe judge, she's threatened (former prosecutors) McFarland and BillBishop and I have no doubt I will be added to that list."
Baugh says he wants the jury to be selfish for themselves andthe citizens of Travis County. He pleads to give the Cave family asmall ten year window of peace they will receive if Hall is lockedup.
Talking to the jury, "Nothing you can do will take the imagesaway from the Sedwick family. She is going to get out. Give theSedwick's some peace."
Chris Baugh is finished and now the defense begins.
"We are not a system led by emotion or we would be a 14thcentury lynch mob" says Amber Elliot who says the DNA evidenceproves Hall was not a part of the mutilation.
Elliot says "DNA shows us who did this... Colton Pitonyak."
At this point Joe Sawyer takes over the statment.
"If you don't believe people are never wrongly convicted, I haveno argument for you," says Sawyer.
Sawyer talked about the comments Hall made on the phone calls."It is the bitterness of someone we wrongly convicted who is injail. Would you curse? Would you be angry?"
"You may dislike her. Is that the reason we punish?"
Sedwick says he did not question the Sedwicks and says to lose achild to death is a terrible thing.
"When your child dies before you die, you will sufferforever."
Sawyer's voice is starting to crack and says if we punish basedon what the Sedwicks saw then "10 years is inadequate, 100 years isinadequate."
He reminds the jury they do not punish based on emotion.
Sawyer starts to talk about Nora Sullivan and the lies she toldthe police and the state as he again attempts to discredit some ofthe state's witnesses. He does the same with Henrietta Langenbach,the cellmate who says Hall confessed to the crime while injail.
Colton Pitonyak now becomes the target of Sawyer. He talks aboutthe actions of Pitonyak after he murdered Cave.
He mentions the posters of the Sopranos, Scarface and othermovies and shows Pitonyak had in his apartment, shows and moviesthat feature dismemberment scenes.
The timeline of events, Sawyer says, would make it impossiblefor Hall to take part in the mutilation.
"He stopped to get a sandwich and then went home and ate itright alongside that dead girl. It didn't bother him."
"He did it for whatever dark reason the imbalance in his minddictated."
Sawyer again reminds the jury "We punish for actions, notbecause we dislike her, not because she says dispicablethings."
Allison Wetzel now has the floor. She asks jury to consider thenature of the crime when determining a punishment.
"The defendent has been convicted of mutilating a body. On therange of ways you can tamper with evidence, this has to be at themaximum."
"You cannot rehabilitate (Laura Hall). That is up to her notyou."
Wetzel says the overriding goal of the justice system is toprotect the good people in society and based on her actions, Hallis a danger to the good people in society.
She tries to restore the credibility of Langenbach and how sheknew information that was not reported in the media, but would beconfirmed throughout the investigation.
"She's a crook, but she was not in here testifying with adeal."
Wetzel says Hall is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and now isnot the time to weigh whether she did it or not the way the defensesuggested.
"She is attracted to Colton Pitonyak because he is bad and evil.They have that in common."
"What happened to Jennifer’s body had nothing to do withhiding evidence. It was pure hatred. And who hated her? It was thedefendant."
Wetzel tells the jury she trust them to do everything they canto keep Hall from hurting anyone else as she ends herstatement.
Judge Flowers gives instructions as the jury retires to the juryroom. This case is now in their hands and now their voice will beheard.
The jury has asked 3 questions to Judge Flowers since breakingto deliberate.
- They wanted to see a timeline of the events from bothprosecution and defense
- They wanted to see pictures of the bruises on Laura's arm whenshe was found in Mexico
- They asked about if sentences for the two charges (tamperingwith evidence and hindering apprehension) would run concurrentlywith each other.
Jury was still out.
Jury sentences Cave to 10 years for tampering and 1 year forhindering.
David Scott and Karen Brooks of KXAN contributed to this report.
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