New hearing for man accused of UT student's murder

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by QUITA CULPEPPER / KVUE News and SHELTON GREEN / KVUE News

kvue.com

Posted on March 19, 2013 at 6:35 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 20 at 9:02 AM

AUSTIN -- The case of the grisly murder of a young woman inside a West Campus apartment near the University of Texas dominated the headlines in Austin for years. Now there are new developments that could send the case back to a courtroom.

Colton Pitonyak was convicted of murdering his friend, 21-year-old Jennifer Cave. After the 2005 murder and dismembering her body, he and another young woman, Laura Hall, fled to Mexico. They were arrested when they tried to come back over the border.

Pitonyak was sentenced to more than 50 years in prison. Hall received a much lighter sentence.

Now Pitonyak's attorney says while his client may have been convicted, more evidence shows this case is not over yet.

In January 2007, Colton Pitonyak was 24 years old when he began serving a 55-year prison sentence for Cave’s murder.  He maintained that after a night of drinking and drugs, he didn't remember killing her.

“The search for the truth doesn't stop with conviction,” said Pitonyak’s attorney Joe Turner.

Over the past few years, Turner has submitted new evidence to lower courts that he believes proves Laura Hall, not Pitonyak, is the one who killed Cave.

Hall is serving a 10-year prison sentence for tampering with evidence in Cave's murder and mutilation.

“There was a confession by Laura Hall to two inmates who reported that confession to the jailer's counselors that was documented in their file,” Turner said. “However it was never turned over to the defense.”

Turner says over the years, others have come forward to say Hall confessed to them as well.

The courts all denied his request for a hearing until Tuesday.

“We were just served with this ruling today,” Turner said. “They're going to give us a hearing, an opportunity to have an appeal on the issue of a Brady Violation.”

A Brady Violation states the government must give favorable evidence to the defense before trial.  Evidence that would have helped Pitonyak was not turned over until after his trial was over.

The ruling Turner received Tuesday from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals says, “The impact of the Brady Violation is perplexing and the claim deserves further review.”

It's the first step toward an appeal and possibly a new trial.

A mixture of Hall and Pitonyak’s DNA was found on a handgun and while she won’t go into specifics, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg says she is allowing the retesting of some evidence and the testing of other items not previously tested. 

“We think it's the right thing to do. We have confidence in the verdict and to say no or to contest would suggest we don't," said Lehmberg. 

Lehmberg also said that Pitonyak’s appeal team is paying for the DNA testing, but a time frame isn’t clear at this point on any results.

“I've met with the Travis County DA’S Office, and they've agreed to additional DNA testing on their own. We're going to pay for it, but they're going to permit it,” Turner said. “So when you consider all that evidence, this failure of the government to give the defense this very valuable piece of evidence ought to get us a new trial.”

There is no word on when the Fifth Circuit Court will hold the hearing on Pitonyak's case.

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