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A Descent into Hell: an altar boy, a cheerleader, and a twisted Texas murder

“Never has a book been more aptly titled. Masterfully, Casey weaves a dark and disturbing look into a world of advantaged youths who throw it all away in favor of drugs, booze and bad company, leaving a sordid trail of destruction – and death – in the wake. A troubling tale, indeed…” Carlton Stowers, Edgar-winning author of CARELESS WHISPERS

At Catholic High for Boys in Little Rock, Arkansas, Colton Pitonyak was an exceptional student, a National Merit Scholar finalist and a sociable teenager, well liked by faculty and friends. He came from an affluent family and had every advantage. No one would imagine that just four years after his high school graduation Pitonyak would be charged with one of the most brutal murders in the history of the University of Texas.

The scene in Pitonyak's West Campus apartment in August 2005 was horrifying, the bloody and dismembered body of Jennifer Cave, a beautiful, bright, young woman Pitonyak had gone out to dinner with the evening before, found abandoned in the bathtub.

By then, Colton Pitonyak had fled to Mexico with Laura Hall, a fellow UT student who planned to be a lawyer. The fugitives were later apprehended by U.S. Marshals.

In January 2007, Colton Pitonyak went on trial. His attorneys argued that the killing was an accident, a product of Colton's mind clouded by drugs and alcohol and a Saturday night special, a loaded semi-automatic without a safety on it. But their client did little to aide their argument. On the witness stand, he insisted he remembered nothing of the fatal shooting, and, perhaps even more surprising, that he had few memories of the horror that followed, claiming Hall had carved up Jennifer's body alone. "I wouldn't have done it," he said. "Jennifer was my best friend."

Prosecutors, however, showed evidence that contradicted Pitonyak's testimony. Pitonyak, they said, shot on purpose, twice, then immediately began covering his tracks, including trying to explain away the gunfire to a neighbor as a clash with drug dealers. And Pitonyak's DNA was all over the machete and the bathroom, not Hall’s.

Why did Colton Pitonyak kill Jennifer Cave? Prosecutor Bill Bishop suggested it was all about money: Pitonyak, who'd been dealing and using drugs, was in dire straights, and wanted Jennifer to bail him out. When she refused, he murdered her.

The jury agreed with the prosecution, finding Colton Pitonyak guilty. But the story doesn't end there. This is a case where the trial posed more questions than it answered. Why did Pitonyak kill Cave? Was it really all about drugs and money? What was the true story of Jennifer Cave and Colton Pitonyak's relationship? Were they really just the best of friends?