Federal judge revisits 2005 murder of Jennifer Cave

Alberto Long

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will decide if former Longhorn Colton Pitonyak deserves a retrial for the brutal murder of Jennifer Cave in 2005. 

Pitonyak is currently serving a 55-year prison sentence for the 2005 murder and mutilation of then-21-year-old Cave, who was found shot and dismembered at Pitonyak’s West Campus apartment. Former UT student Laura Ashley Hall, described as Pitonyak’s jealous lover in court documents, is currently serving a 10-year sentence for tampering with evidence. Both fled to Mexico following the murder and were apprehended during their attempt to cross the border back into the U.S.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to review Pitonyak’s case based on claims that the state withheld evidence containing Hall’s confessions during the initial trial in 2007 — a federal constitutional violation of Brady v. Maryland. 

However, the evidence might not hold up in court. Andrew Oldham, deputy solicitor for the state, argued that prosecutors are not required to turn over notes made by a medical professional, and that the notes in question would be protected by federal
medical privacy laws. 

Chris Perri, one member of Pitonyak’s legal counsel, said Brady violations usually trump privacy laws in a court of law and cited a lack of consensus regarding a prisoner’s privacy rights. 

“Confessing to a murder does not even constitute medical information,” Perri said. “This is criminal evidence.”

If the Brady precedent sticks, the prosecution will have the option to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the prosecutors fail to successfully appeal the case to the Supreme Court, Pitonyak will be granted a new trial at the 147th State District Court in Austin.