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University of Texas student Colton Pitonyak, a one-time National Merit Scholar, is standing trial
for murder in the fatal Aug. 17, 2005, shooting of his friend, Jennifer Cave.
If convicted, he
faces a possible life sentence.



Jennifer Cave, 21, had struggled with drugs and dropped out of college. "She was having a hard time finding herself," her mother testified. The day before her death, however, she had landed a job as a legal assistant in an environmental law firm. "She was very enthusiastic, very organized, very excited to have the job," her new boss recalled. After just four hours of work, he promoted her to a full-time position.



Several friends and acquaintances testified they saw Cave with Pitonyak around midnight on Sixth Street, Austin's party district. Both were drinking, and according to witness Jeffrey Sanderson, Pitonyak seemed high. "His brain was fried on drugs," he told police.



Michael Rodriguez, a friend, said he spoke to Cave at 1 a.m. and she was still out with Pitonyak. He said
she reported that Pitonyak was upset because he had lost his phone and was urinating on a car.



The next day, Cave's mother filed a missing persons report. The police found Cave's Saturn sedan parked on a street near the Orange Tree Apartments, an off-campus complex where Pitonyak lived. His apartment is in the bottom right corner.



Jennifer Cave's mother, Sharon Cave, testified that she spoke to Pitonyak (pictured) twice by phone trying to get information about her daughter's whereabouts, but both times he was rude and insisted he didn't know anything. "Dude, I am eating pizza with my friends. Please leave me alone," she quoted him as saying.



After police said they did not have the legal grounds to break into Pitonyak's apartment, Cave's
boyfriend, Jim Sedwick, forced his way in through a window.



The studio apartment was in disarray and Sedwick immediately smelled a bad odor. In the bathroom, he discovered Cave's partially dismembered body in the tub.



Jennifer Cave's hands and head were wrapped in white trash bags inside this bag. A medical examiner later determined that Cave had died from a single gunshot wound to her right chest. She had suffered a number of bizarre wounds after death, including a bullet fired into her severed head.



Police found a shell casing in the tub that matched the bullet that killed Cave. It was fired by
a 9 mm handgun that was later discovered in Pitonyak's car.



Cave's phone number, labeled "J. Ribbit," was scrawled on Pitonyak's kitchen wall.



The brown paper bag in Pitonyak's studio apartment led police to a hardware store four blocks away.
The owner told police Pitonyak had bought a hacksaw and other supplies about 12 hours after the
time Jennifer Cave is believed to have been killed. Asked what he needed the saw for,
Pitonyak told the store owner, "I need to cut up a turkey."



Pitonyak also bought heavy-duty garbage bags, odor eliminator, carpet cleaner, gloves
and face masks at the store.



Pitonyak fled to Mexico with a former girlfriend, Laura Hall. Pedro Fernandez (pictured),
the manager of the Casablanca Hotel in Piedras Blancas, took a photo with his
cellphone after he began to suspect that Pitonyak was a fugitive.



Pitonyak and Hall went to the home of the hotel manager, Pedro Fernandez, to watch a pay-per-view professional fighting match, but Fernandez kicked them out after Pitonyak became belligerent and
"stumbling" drunk. This photo was taken after Pitonyak fell into a playpen belonging to Fernandez's
young son. "He thought it was hilarious that he went in there," Fernandez testified.



Four days after he crossed the border, Pitonyak was taken into custody by Mexican officials and handed
over to law enforcement officers in Texas.
Hall was later charged with hindering apprehension.



Colton Pitonyak will testify in his own defense. His lawyers say he does not remember shooting Cave,
but that it must have been an accident. His defense has implied it will ask jurors to find him guilty
of a lesser charge, such as manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.
Pitonyak faces life
 in prison if convicted of murder.



Pitonyak's lawyer, Roy Minton, questioned Austin police firearms examiner Greg Karim about whether
the gun used in the shooting might have gone off accidentally. Karim said the gun did not have a hair
trigger, but acknowledged that someone might accidentally pull the trigger while trying to clear a
round from the chamber.



Colton Pitonyak testified he has no memory of killing Jennifer Cave, the young woman he considered
his best friend, after a night of drinking and drug use, but admitted he believes he may have
 shot her accidentally.



About 12 hours after he shot Cave, Pitonyak stopped for a meal at Burger King. He testified that he
went to the fast-food chain to get more soda to add to the vodka he was drinking and ordered a
 value meal "out of habit." Prosecutors noted that he specified "no onions" on the sandwich.



Prosecutor Stephanie McFarland holds the hacksaw used to dismember Jennifer Cave's body during her summation. She said the saw was too small to cut up a body and reminded jurors that Pitonyak told the hardware store owner he was looking for a tool to cut up a turkey.



Pitonyak was stone-faced during closing arguments. His lawyers have said he is taking
medication for depression.



Defense attorney Sam Bassett holds a machete found in Pitonyak's dishwasher. Prosecutors
claimed he used it on the victim's body. His lawyers said his DNA was on the handle
because he had owned it for years.



Hall faces trial later this year on charges of felony hindering apprehension. She invoked her Fifth
Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify for Pitonyak's defense.



Colton Pitonyak's mother wept during the verdict, but he was stoic. His lawyer later said the only
concern he expressed was for his parents' well-being.



The victim's relatives embraced after the verdict. Among those in court were her sisters, Vanessa
and Lauren, brother Clayton, mother,Sharon, and her mother's fiancÚ, Jim Sedwick.



Sharon Cave, the victim's mother, broke down as she recalled the effects of Jennifer's death.
She said her daughter was "everyone's favorite" and bonded the family together.



Eddie Pitonyak, the defendant's father, read a statement detailing his son's childhood and academic
success. He referred to Jennifer Cave's death as "an accident," prompting grumbles from the
victim's relatives.



Bridgett Pitonyak, the defendant's mother, wept as she testified on her son's behalf. She insisted he could not have purposefully killed Cave, who she said, he "loved deeply." "It is beyond my comprehension that Colton would ever intentionally harm someone, especially a woman," she said.



After a jury sentenced him to 55 years in prison, Pitonyak said, "I apologize to everybody here."
He will be eligible for parole after serving half of his sentence.



Jennifer Cave's mother, Sharon, and her fiance, Jim Sedwick, left the courtroom with the victim's
sisters and brother after Pitonyak was sentenced to 55 years in prison. "We are very, very happy
 with the verdict," Cave said.



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