Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Big Day: A New Trial and a New Book

by Kathryn Casey

First the trial: Today begins a new milestone in the bizarre saga of Laura Hall.

In August 2007, Hall, a University of Texas student, was convicted of helping her then-lover, Colton Pitonyak, flee to Mexico to escape prosecution in the 2005 murder of a young woman named Jennifer Cave. But there was something more, something hideous. Hall, who'd hoped law school was in her future, was also found guilty of tampering with evidence, specifically helping to dismember Cave's corpse.

The Pitonyak case, some of you may remember, was the subject of my fifth true crime bookA Descent Into Hell.

Hall appealed her convictions. She failed in the biggest sense: the guilty verdict was upheld. But Hall won on another front: the court ruled that she was entitled to a new sentencing. Why? Early on the one witness put on the stand to testify during the sentencing phase, a cab driver, didn't identify Hall from a police photo lineup. That fact wasn't disclosed to Hall's defense attorney. Looking at the case, I can't disagree with the court. Hall's attorney deserved to know that information while the witness was on the stand.

Still, I'm wondering if this new sentencing trial will turn out to be a win for Laura Hall, or if she'll one day rue her decision to proceed with it.

Why? This is a horrendous murder, a bloody, awful crime scene, sure to raise emotions. On the first go-around, Hall was eligible for up to a ten-year sentence, but the jury only gave her five. She's already served 22 months and is eligible for parole. Why should she be worried? The bottom line is that Hall is unable to keep her mouth shut.

While now behind bars, for months while the case worked its way toward retrial Hall was out of jail, living with her parents in Tarpley, Texas. During that time, she talked openly about her role in the case, even boasting to one man that she "capped the bitch," which could be interpreted as admitting she fired a post-mortem bullet found lodged inside Jennifer Cave's severed head.

So when the trial begins today in Austin, prosecutors have witnesses who can illustrate in gory detail that Laura Hall feels no remorse, and that she, in fact, bragged about defiling another young woman's body.

You never know what will happen in a courtroom, but my prediction is that Laura Hall won't get a sentence reduction this week. In fact, she runs the very real risk of walking away with more time. Perhaps Hall should have been careful what she wished for. Now that she's got it, she may find that this new trial isn't to her liking.

Now let's talk about the second big event of the day, the debut of my new true crime book: Shattered. On Houston's David Temple case, the book brings to life a fascinating real-life tale of love gone wrong, of college sweethearts who end up in a deadly dance of dominance and control that spawns a horrible tragedy.

The 911 call came in from a red brick Colonial in a quiet Houston suburb at 5:36 on January 11, 1999. "Somebody's broken into my house and my wife has been shot," David Temple said, his voice breaking. "Oh, my God.... Oh, Jesus.... She's eight months pregnant."

At the time, three years before Laci Peterson disappeared and her husband Scott became a prime suspect, it seemed impossible that any husband would brutally murder a pregnant wife. In the Temple case, prosecutors wanted more evidence than detectives could provide, more proof. The result: a stalled investigation that left Belinda's family and friends aching for justice.

Shattered dissects an eight-year investigation into the murder of Belinda, a beloved high school teacher. In addition to missing evidence, there were other complications, including that David was a former football hero and a high school coach. In Texas, we admire few more than those who battle for us on the gridiron. Could this small-town hero be a cold-blooded killer?

Along with a detective who never quit, Shattered features one of the most hard-fought trials I've ever covered. Two Texas legal titans battled it out, one intent on avenging the death of a young mother and her unborn daughter, the other convinced his client wasn't a killer but another victim.

Did David Temple murder his beautiful, pregnant wife, or was he an innocent man, persecuted by an out-of-control prosecutor? Who would the jury believe? Beginning today, Shattered is available in bookstores, at retailers including Walmart, and on the Internet through many sites, including Amazon.com.

Friday, July 2, 2010: As I predicted above, Laura Hall's appeal didn't go as she'd hoped. The jury just gave her the max, 10 years, twice the original sentence. Laura, you should have been careful what you wished for!


Story Teller said...

This seems like a really interesting book. I look forward to reading it.

I once heard a stat that the most common cause of death for young pregnant women in the US is homicide. Not sure if that's still true, but if so, it's highly disturbing.


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