Texas court refuses latest appeal for former UT student’s sentence

Sarah White

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the latest appeal of a former UT student convicted of tampering with evidence in the 2005 murder and mutilation of Austin resident Jennifer Cave.

The Court refused to accept Laura Ashley Hall’s latest appeal to her 10-year sentence for the crime. The court issued the rejection of the appeal without comment on Jan. 11. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has the discretion to grant or refuse a review based on certain criteria laid out in the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure, said deputy clerk Mark Adams.

“Hall has 15 days [until Jan. 26] to file a motion for rehearing,” Adams said.

As of Tuesday, Hall’s attorney, Tim Copeland, had not filed such a motion Adams said. Copeland was not available to comment on Hall’s future plans.

Copeland filed Hall’s first appeal to her conviction and punishment in the Third Court of Appeals in Texas on Nov. 1, 2007. Hall was originally convicted in 2007 of the misdemeanor offense of hindering apprehension of a suspect by helping Colton Pitonyak flee to Mexico. Pitonyak was later convicted of murder and sentenced to a 55-year prison term. Hall was also convicted at the time of the felony offense of tampering with physical evidence, by dismembering Cave’s body, and was sentenced a five-year prison term.

In 2009, at the second trial for Hall’s punishment, the jury raised Hall’s sentence from a five-year term to a 10-year term, Justice Bob Pemberton said in an Aug. 24, 2011 court opinion. Pemberton issued an opinion on May 1, 2009, which stated that the Third Court of Appeals had overruled Hall’s challenge to her conviction. However, Pemberton also wrote that Hall’s points were sustained “to the extent they challenge[d] her punishment.”

“During the punishment trial on remand, the jury considered voluminous testimony and numerous exhibits from 26 witnesses for the state and four witnesses for Hall,” Pemberton wrote. “Following its deliberations, the jury returned a verdict of 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of $10,000 for the tampering offense.”

In August of 2011, the Third Court of Appeal overruled Hall’s motion for a new trial. Pemberton said Hall’s motion was based on an allegation that the Austin Police Department Forensics lab had done substandard or shoddy work while analyzing evidence. She based this claim off of a complaint by Cecily Hamilton, a former APD employee, that the forensics lab had done incomplete DNA analysis in numerous cases since 2005, Pemberton said.

Bill Gibbins, spokesman for APD and the forensics lab said Hamilton’s claims have since been overturned.

“The chief of police requested that the Texas Rangers look into Ms. Hamilton’s allegations,” said Gibbins, “An investigation was conducted by the Texas Rangers that resulted in the lab being cleared of the allegations.”