The Murder of Jennifer Cave

This case is a rather hard one to figure out and research, not because there is not a lot of information but because there never really seemed to be clear cut answers as to not just exactly what happened, but why it happened.

Many of the true crime shows such as 48 Hours, Dateline, and others have featured this case, first likely because of the extreme gruesomeness of the case but secondly because in a way it still remains a mystery.  Two people sit in jail for participating in this crime in some way but many wonder if the charges should not have been reversed between them.  Aside from the extremeness of the killing the other thing that interests me is a legal twist that was made several years later.

On August 17, 2005 Sharon Sedwick received a phone call in her Corpus Christi Texas home from a law firm.  Her twenty-one year old daughter, Jennifer Cave, had just been hired by the firm as a legal assistant and this was to be her first day, but they were calling to let Sharon know that Jennifer, who lived in Austin, had not come to work.  The law firm had made several attempts to reach Jennifer but could not find her.  Sharon thought this was odd because she knew her daughter was excited about the new job, but one has to wonder also if Sharon was not just a little irritated at her daughter also.  Apparently it was fairly well known that Jennifer had had issues with drugs. Whether that was completely in the past, or her mother thought it was, is uncertain.  However, missing is missing, regardless as to why.  So, for her part Sharon tries to reach her daughter and she too fails.  She then contacts the cell phone company. Jennifer's phone was on Sharon's plan and she was able to find the last three numbers in which Jennifer had called.  One was an ex boyfriend, one was her friend Michael Rodriquez and the third was to Colton Pitonyak.

Sharon had a bit of trouble reaching Colton but Michael had told Sharon that he had spoken to Jennifer the night before a few times and that the last he spoke to her Jennifer was with Colton, and while Jennifer did not seem scared or worried she did indicate that Colton was acting erratic.  Sharon was finally able to reach Colton but he denied ever seeing Jennifer the night before.  On top of that he was apparently rather rude to Sharon the few times he did speak to her. Not only was he denying seeing Jennifer, he seemed extremely uncaring that Jennifer was apparently missing and told Sharon basically to quit harassing him.

The following day Sharon and her husband Jim went to Austin to look for Jennifer.  When they made their way to Colton's apartment they noticed Jennifer's car sitting outside.  They knocked on the door but there was no answer.  They decided to call the police but when they showed up the police told the Sedwick's there was nothing they could do.  They did not have probable cause to go into the apartment and they left.  Soon after the Sedwick's attempted to have a locksmith open the door but that too failed because apparently there was a deadbolt latched inside.  Finally, Jim Sedwick found a way inside through a window.  He made his way through the apartment and was met with horror when he reached the bathroom. Inside he would see the mutilated body of Jennifer Cave in the tub.  Jim Sedwick immediately left the apartment and called the police back.  In the process Jim also had to attempt to keep Sharon from going inside also.  Sharon would never see her daughter again.

When the police showed they secured the scene but still had to wait until a search warrant was signed in order to do more.  It was obvious there was nothing they could do for Jennifer Cave just by looking at her. They had discovered Jennifer's headless, handless, corpse.  Once they were able to go in they obviously got more information.  They would even find Colton's car outside also and obtained a search there also.  What they did not find was Colton Pitonyak.  

The medical examiner would determine that Jennifer's cause of death had been a gunshot wound that had gone through her arm, into her chest and pierced her heart.  Death would have been instantaneous.  One of the few up sides to this case is that it seemed apparent that Jennifer did not suffer in her death.  But, what happened to her after her death was more gruesome than many had ever seen.  Jennifer's head, and hands had been placed in bags and were near the tub.  Her torso and legs remained in the tub where a hacksaw was placed on top.  The torso was riddled with stab wounds that would later be determined were administered post-mortem.  A bullet would also be found in her brain, but how it got there is more morbid than most anything I have heard.  The bullet had been shot into the brain, through the bottom of her severed neck.  In all detectives found three .38 caliber shells in the apartment.  The gun in which they had been fired from was found in Colton Pitonyak's car. A toxicology report would show the presence of alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamines in her system.

So where was Colton Pitonyak, and just who was he?  

Colton Pitonyak was a student at the University of Texas.  He was originally from Arkansas.  By most accounts, like many young people Colton showed little issues, at least that is what is said, with the law or drugs until he had graduated high school and entered college.  Now, as I said this is what was said, but I have found that it rarely, just suddenly appears when one goes off to college.  There are generally signs of things going on before but quite often those signs are missed, ignored or brushed off.  Some have indicated that Colton's family wealth could have hidden some of his issues also but to be fair there is nothing concrete to prove this.  It does appear that he was rather "privileged" and despite his recent drug problems and near failure in school on the surface things did not look that bad, at least to those who could have done something about it. In 2004 he had been arrested for illegal possession of drugs that included cocaine, and prescription sleeping pills in which were not his and had spent some time in a rehab facility.  But, from those who were around him the most it does not sound as if anything had changed, or if it had, it did not last long.  

No one seemed to really know just exactly what the relationship between Jennifer and Colton consisted of.  Very few seem to believe that they dated or were romantically involved, ever. It appears most just believe that they were friends and that Colton was Jennifer's source for drugs.  Some have indicated that Colton may have had a romantic interest in Jennifer but it probably was not reciprocated.  Some believe that it was this romantic interest that led to her murder, and it was the perception of the romantic interest that led to her mutilation.

In comes Laura Ashley Hall.  The one thing that everyone can agree with, even her parents it seems, is that Laura was obsessed with Colton.  What it seems no one can agree with, if they even gander to guess, is to why.  It is unclear just what their relationship was but it seems clear that Laura did not like Jennifer Cave.  But, did she not like Jennifer Cave because she thought Colton was interested in her and not herself?  Did she dislike Jennifer because Jennifer was not into Colton in that way?  These are questions that no one will likely ever have the answer to.  What people do know is that at some point during the early morning hours of August 17, 2005 Colton and Laura were texting and calling each other.  And, people know that on the night of August 17th Laura's car was headed to Mexico with Laura and Colton inside.  

Obviously immediately after finding Jennifer Cave's body in Colton Pitonyak's apartment they needed to find him and within a short period they knew he was with Laura Hall, and soon after that they were somewhere in Mexico.  On August 23rd, after having been found Mexican authorities escorted Colton and Laura back to the United States Border where Colton was arrested and charged with murder.  At that time Laura was released and allowed to leave but not before she apparently made a scene with the border patrol and the arresting officers proclaiming his innocence and her undying support to him.  The following month she was arrested and charged with the tampering of evidence and hindering the apprehension of a wanted person.

Colton would claim that he did not know how Jennifer was initially shot because he remembered nothing of the night before.  His story was that he simply woke up and found her.  To be clear I was unable to determine just where he says he found her other than obviously inside his apartment.  Now, to be fair he was not saying, at least in the beginning that he did not do it, just that he did not remember.  He was obviously and admittedly intoxicated and under the influence of drugs. He would admit to buying the tools in which were used to mutilate her body but really he had no choice, there was a video showing him at a hardware store and a receipt showing the items. As far as who or what happened after that it seems that Colton continues to be vague or at least have an evolving story.

On January 29, 2007 Colton Pitonyak was convicted in the murder of Jennifer Cave.  He was sentenced to 55 years.  He will be eligible for parole when he has served half of his time.  According to the Texas Department of Corrections the earliest in which he can be released is in the year 2033 but his projected release date is not until the year 2060.

That same year Laura Hall was convicted for her charges. Prosecutors could not prove that she played a larger role in the death of Jennifer Cave so they could only go with what they had.  Laura's DNA had been found on one of Jennifer's shoes that was found near the tub, a shop towel found on the coffee table and even on the pistol that was used to shoot Jennifer.  What they could not prove is that she shot the initial shot but argued she fired the gun into Jennifer's severed neck.  For his part Colton's DNA had been found on the knife, machete and the hacksaw that was found on top of Jennifer's body.  Prosecutors had a former cellmate of Laura's who testified that Laura said she was in charge of the mutilation but her credibility was iffy at best, and still it did not prove she was involved in the initial killing.  Laura was facing a maximum of 10 years on the "tampering" with evidence charge but the jury had given her only five years for that and the maximum one year for hindering Colton's apprehension.

As is generally the case in almost all convictions appeals would follow.  I'm going to start with Colton's efforts.  As of 2016 all of his appeals have failed, but that does not make them less interesting.  In one of his appeal efforts Colton continued to maintain that he had no true memory of that night but the appeal claims that at the time of his trial prosecutors had evidence from a witness who would claim that Laura Hall had confessed to committing the murder while Colton was passed out on the couch of the apartment and had failed to give it to defense attorney's.  To be fair, at his trial in 2007 one of Colton's friends and neighbors, Nora Sullivan, testified that Colton himself showed up at her door at around 3 am obviously "on something," rambling about a gun fight he had been in with some Mexicans.  It was then that Sullivan claims that Colton stated he was not sure if he had hit one of these men and asked if he had any blood on him.  Sullivan testified that she examined his clothing and body and saw a small smear of blood on his arm.  While the appeals court denied this claim and refused to order the new trial that Colton was seeking, it seemed to leave questions to the community.

Laura's defense too decided they would appeal her conviction and sentencing. reality of it is that by the time the appeal was considered Laura would have been eligible for parole soon.  Her attorney's argued too that evidence had been withheld from her trial.  The appeals court did not overturn her conviction but they did throw out her sentence in 2009 and ordered a new sentencing hearing and she was released on bond from prison.  This is where things got very interesting and if you are someone who believes in karma, this is a prime example to tell others who do not.  In 2010, at her re-sentencing hearing the prosecution played tapes of conversations that had been made after her conviction in 2007.  In those tapes to family Laura was heard threatening the life of Sharon Sedwick, Jennifer's mother; she expressed absolutely no remorse in Jennifer's death, in fact stated she had deserved to die; and had even threatened her own mother when she was unable to make bond.  As Sharon Sedwick would point out, never once would Laura called Jennifer by her name. It was always "that girl" or even "the dead girl" and she she used words like "whore" and "tramp" to describe her.  Nora Sullivan also testified at the re-hearing and stated that Laura had told her she "had to motivate Colton to take care of the body" to show the jury it was Laura who had pushed for the mutilation.  There were even more former inmates who testified that Laura admitted to the murder itself and to her attitude after the crime, although again, we should always take these witnesses and their testimony with a grain of salt. I am sure it was announced then, if it had not been already that despite her initial cries when she was arrested that she had basically been held hostage by Colton, she had gone (after the murder) and got a tattoo with his name.  And here is where Karma stepped in and took over.... after the hearing finished the jury in this case sentenced Laura to the maximum allowed for the tampering of evidence.... 10 years and the maximum of one year for the hindering of apprehension.  Had she let the original sentence stand she would have been out of prison for good by the time she was re-sentenced in 2010.  Instead she was ordered back to jail.  Of course she got credit for the time she had spent already in jail which amount to about two years.  She has been denied parole every time she has been eligible (I was able to prove 2011, 2012, 2014 at the very least). According to the Texas Department of Corrections they list no new "earliest" release date, meaning she has no more parole hearings.  Her release date is set for August of 2018.  

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