DNA problems part of convicted killer's appeal



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Posted on July 26, 2010 at 6:44 PM

The attorney for convicted killer Colton Pitonyak cites DNA issues and evidence from Laura Hall’s resentencing trial in his latest appeal.

It is just the latest fallout from the credibility questions surrounding the Austin Police Department’s DNA lab. A former worker alleges improper training, cheating on exams, and human resources problems.
In 2007, Colton Pitonyak was sentenced to 55 years in prison for killing Jennifer Cave. Now his defense attorney, Joe Turner, is counting on allegations of improper DNA testing to win a new trial.
“This is supposed to be the scientific evidence that is reliable. Now we’ve come to find out maybe it’s not so reliable, that maybe there are problems in the lab and jurors have to rethink their reliance on this evidence,” said Pitonyak’s defense attorney Joe Turner.
The motion also includes fresh evidence from Laura Hall's resentencing trial including the transcript of her Travis County Jail calls. In them she threatens the mother of murder victim Jennifer Cave.
“It’s pretty damaging for her, which in turn helps Colton Pitonyak,” said Turner.
Lawyers for Hall have also filed a motion for a new trial. They say prosecutors did not alert Hall's defense team about DNA lab complaints until the first day of her resentencing trial.
“To say we hid it or we concealed it or anything like that it’s just not the case,” said Assistant District Attorney Allison Wetzel.
In early July, a jury sentenced Hall to the maximum punishment allowed for her convictions of tampering with physical evidence and hindering apprehension.
Wetzel says it is not surprising DNA issues surfaced in Hall’s appeal as defense attorneys in Travis County have raised the issue in multiple cases and multiple courtrooms.
“We feel like once they have investigated everything, they will agree there is not a problem. We understand it’s something they need to do,” said Wetzel.
Hall is still in the Travis County Jail awaiting transfer to a state prison.
Hall's father, Loren Hall, said he is hopeful about the motion for a new trial but said, "The justice system is full of fraud."
Joe James Sawyer, the defense attorney who represented Hall during her resentencing trial, filed a motion to withdraw on Friday. In the motion he asked that appellate counsel be appointed for Hall.