University of Texas student Colton Pitonyak, a one-time National
Merit Scholar, is standing trial
for murder in the fatal Aug.
17, 2005, shooting of his friend, Jennifer Cave.
faces a possible life sentence.
Jennifer Cave, 21, had struggled with drugs and dropped out of
college. "She was having a hard time finding herself," her
mother testified. The day before her death, however, she had
landed a job as a legal assistant in an environmental law firm.
"She was very enthusiastic, very organized, very excited to have
the job," her new boss recalled. After just four hours of work,
he promoted her to a full-time position.
Several friends and acquaintances testified they saw Cave with
Pitonyak around midnight on Sixth Street, Austin's party
district. Both were drinking, and according to witness Jeffrey
Sanderson, Pitonyak seemed high.
was fried on drugs," he told police.
Michael Rodriguez, a friend, said he spoke to Cave at 1 a.m. and
she was still out with Pitonyak. He said
she reported that Pitonyak was upset because he had lost his phone and was
urinating on a car.
The next day, Cave's mother filed a missing persons report. The
police found Cave's Saturn sedan parked on a street near the
Orange Tree Apartments, an off-campus complex where Pitonyak
is in the bottom right corner.
Jennifer Cave's mother, Sharon Cave, testified that she spoke to
Pitonyak (pictured) twice by phone trying to get information
about her daughter's whereabouts, but both times he was rude and
insisted he didn't know anything. "Dude, I am eating pizza with
my friends. Please leave me alone," she quoted him as saying.
After police said they did not have the legal grounds to break
into Pitonyak's apartment, Cave's
boyfriend, Jim Sedwick, forced
his way in through a window.
The studio apartment was in disarray and Sedwick immediately
smelled a bad odor. In the bathroom, he discovered Cave's
partially dismembered body in the tub.
Jennifer Cave's hands and head were wrapped in white trash bags
inside this bag. A medical examiner later determined that Cave
had died from a single gunshot wound to her right chest. She had
suffered a number of bizarre wounds after death, including a
bullet fired into her severed head.
Police found a shell casing in the tub that matched the bullet
that killed Cave. It was fired by
a 9 mm handgun that was later
discovered in Pitonyak's car.
Cave's phone number, labeled "J. Ribbit," was scrawled on
Pitonyak's kitchen wall.
The brown paper bag in Pitonyak's studio apartment led police to
a hardware store four blocks away.
The owner told police Pitonyak had bought a hacksaw and other supplies about 12 hours
time Jennifer Cave is believed to have been killed.
Asked what he needed the saw for,
Pitonyak told the store owner,
"I need to cut up a turkey."
Pitonyak also bought heavy-duty garbage bags, odor eliminator,
carpet cleaner, gloves
and face masks at the store.
Pitonyak fled to Mexico with a former girlfriend, Laura Hall.
Pedro Fernandez (pictured),
the manager of the Casablanca Hotel
in Piedras Blancas, took a photo with his
cellphone after he
began to suspect that Pitonyak was a fugitive.
Pitonyak and Hall went to the home of the hotel manager, Pedro
Fernandez, to watch a pay-per-view professional fighting match,
but Fernandez kicked them out after Pitonyak became belligerent
"stumbling" drunk. This photo was taken after Pitonyak fell
into a playpen belonging to Fernandez's
young son. "He thought
it was hilarious that he went in there," Fernandez testified.
Four days after he crossed the border, Pitonyak was taken into
custody by Mexican officials and handed
over to law enforcement
officers in Texas.
later charged with hindering apprehension.
Colton Pitonyak will testify in his own defense. His lawyers say
he does not remember shooting Cave,
but that it must have been
an accident. His defense has implied it will ask jurors to find
of a lesser charge, such as manslaughter or
criminally negligent homicide.
in prison if convicted of murder.
Pitonyak's lawyer, Roy Minton, questioned Austin police firearms
examiner Greg Karim about whether
the gun used in the shooting
might have gone off accidentally. Karim said the gun did not
have a hair
trigger, but acknowledged that someone might
accidentally pull the trigger while trying to clear a
Colton Pitonyak testified he has no memory of killing Jennifer
Cave, the young woman he considered
his best friend, after a
night of drinking and drug use, but admitted he believes he may
shot her accidentally.
About 12 hours after he shot Cave, Pitonyak stopped for a meal
at Burger King. He testified that he
went to the fast-food chain
to get more soda to add to the vodka he was drinking and ordered
value meal "out of habit." Prosecutors noted that he specified
"no onions" on the sandwich.
Prosecutor Stephanie McFarland holds the hacksaw used to
dismember Jennifer Cave's body during her summation. She said
the saw was too small to cut up a body and reminded jurors that
Pitonyak told the hardware store owner he was looking for a tool
to cut up a turkey.
Pitonyak was stone-faced during closing arguments. His lawyers
have said he is taking
medication for depression.
Defense attorney Sam Bassett holds a machete found in Pitonyak's
claimed he used it on the victim's body.
His lawyers said his DNA was on the handle
because he had owned
it for years.
Hall faces trial later this year on charges of felony hindering
apprehension. She invoked her Fifth
Amendment right against
self-incrimination and refused to testify for Pitonyak's defense.
Colton Pitonyak's mother wept during the verdict, but he was
stoic. His lawyer later said the only
concern he expressed was
for his parents' well-being.
The victim's relatives embraced after the verdict. Among those
in court were her sisters, Vanessa
and Lauren, brother Clayton, mother,Sharon, and her mother's fiancé, Jim Sedwick.
Sharon Cave, the victim's mother, broke down as she recalled the
effects of Jennifer's death.
She said her daughter was
"everyone's favorite" and bonded the family together.
Eddie Pitonyak, the defendant's father, read a statement
detailing his son's childhood and academic
success. He referred
to Jennifer Cave's death as "an accident," prompting grumbles
Bridgett Pitonyak, the defendant's mother, wept as she testified
on her son's behalf. She insisted he could not have purposefully
killed Cave, who she said, he "loved deeply." "It is beyond my
comprehension that Colton would ever intentionally harm someone,
especially a woman," she said.
After a jury sentenced him to 55 years in prison, Pitonyak said,
"I apologize to everybody here."
He will be eligible for parole
after serving half of his sentence.
Jennifer Cave's mother, Sharon, and her fiance, Jim Sedwick,
left the courtroom with the victim's
sisters and brother after Pitonyak was sentenced to 55 years in prison. "We are very, very
with the verdict," Cave said.