Court denies Colton Pitonyak new trial, lawyers to appeal

Alberto Long

Colton Pitonyak, a former UT student convicted for the 2005 slaying and dismemberment of 21-year-old Jennifer Cave in his West Campus apartment, was denied a new trial Wednesday by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

For six years, Pitonyak’s lawyers have unsuccessfully appealed the case based on an alternative-perpetrator theory. Pitonyak’s counsel has long claimed that his accomplice, former UT student Laura Hall, murdered Cave, citing confessions Hall made to fellow inmates while in prison.

The Fifth Circuit agreed to review Pitonyak’s case based on claims that prosecutors withheld evidence containing Hall’s confessions during the initial trial in 2007. Pitonyak was granted a hearing in August based on a subsequent Brady violation — a federal violation denying a defendant due process — which the judge called “perplexing and [deserving] of further review,” according to an official court document. 

“Given the jailhouse context of Hall’s confession and its lack of corroboration and detail, the state court reasonably could have concluded that Hall’s statement could not overcome the overwhelming problems with an alternate-perpetrator theory,” the court said in Wednesday’s opinion.

Chris Perri, one of Pitonyak’s lawyers, said he is disappointed by the court’s decision, but maintains that the case is alive and well and plans to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Pitonyak is currently serving a 55-year prison sentence for the murder and mutilation of Cave, who was found shot and dismembered in a bathtub at Pitonyak’s West Campus apartment.

Hall, a friend of Pitonyak’s who is described as his jealous lover by court documents, is currently serving a 10-year sentence for tampering with evidence. Both fled to Mexico following the murder and were apprehended by authorities during their attempt to cross the border back into the U.S.