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[00:00:01]

You're listening to the Drac. Hi, I'm Hayley Butler, and I'm Tony Thomas. For over a year, we've kept sensitivity in mind when working on this story. However, what you're about to hear contains strong language, drug and alcohol abuse and descriptions of physical violence that are gruesome in nature. Some listeners might find this distressing. If that's you, please take caution as we navigate the story about the life and death of Jennifer Cave. Previously on The Orange Tree Soil walks us through Laura's trial, it's scheduled to be eight months after Coltons.

[00:00:45]

My strategy was to use the physical evidence to show them that she is as much a victim to Colton Potočnik as Jennifer Cave was in the end. Did it matter? No. Why? Because of Laura.

[00:00:59]

So but anyway, so it sounds like a real moron that who did that?

[00:01:07]

Like Mom, I was watching that jury and I thought it's all over. Laura's sentence doubled to ten years. It's September 16th, 2005, one month after Jennifer Cave's death in a jail just outside of Austin, prisoners are in a therapy session. Travis County Sheriff's Office employee Carrie Hoffman leads the therapy session and takes some notes for the record. One of the inmates tells Councillor Hoffman that another inmate in the jail had confessed to a murder. The inmate says the person who confessed also said, quote, That whore deserved to die, she was just a dancer anyway.

[00:01:56]

Another inmate speaks up at the therapy session. She says the same inmate had also confessed to her about the same crime. She says the inmate had no remorse. The inmate told her she was mad because her boyfriend had been cheating on her with the victim.

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Quote, I do remember her saying that the only eerie part was the sound of cutting through the bone.

[00:02:20]

The inmates we're talking about, Laura Hall, the victim, they say she confessed to killing was Jennifer Cave. Laura Hall, the same woman who had fled the scene of a crime just a few weeks earlier and drove to Mexico with Colton Potasnik sitting shotgun in her green Cadillac. Laura had been arrested and is in jail. But these inmates, she usually sits in on these therapy sessions, too. But she had to skip this week's session to go to mediation.

[00:02:53]

Hoffman's notes from that session are not used in Coltons trial. His defense team didn't know about them. I'm Hailey Butler and I'm to New Thomas. This is the sixth episode of The Orange Tree. Earlier, you heard what happened in Coltons trial and the stories people told on the stand as the media attention of the trial died down, Colton's defense team has been continuing to fight his conviction since 2007.

[00:03:31]

Colton has been able to file a number of appeals in this episode. We're going to explore three stories that Coltons defense team uses in an attempt to get him a new trial, including the alleged jail confession. You just heard from Laura Hall and more. Four years after Coltons convicted of murder and given a 55 year sentence, his dad, Eddie Potasnik, hasn't given up. He's hired new lawyers to try to get Colton out of prison. One of them is a young appellate lawyer and a UT grad, Kris Perry.

[00:04:05]

And so, I mean, I was just he was I was 24. He was maybe a year or two younger than me. So I just really saw, like, I like this guy's life is going to be completely tanked. And I mean, of course, he committed the murder. Yeah.

[00:04:22]

I mean, we have consequences.

[00:04:23]

But just thinking about how horrible it would be to wake up and have this dead body in your bathtub and not know what the hell happened sounded like a nightmare. And that just always fascinated me from there.

[00:04:35]

The story, the fleeing Perry works in Joe Turner's law firm and he gets access to Counselor Hoffman's therapy session records. Parian Turner file a writ based on what happened in that session and how the counselor's notes were handled. Writs are similar to appeals, but are generally used when the defendant wants to bring up evidence that wasn't presented in their original trial.

[00:05:00]

We need somebody to spearhead this writ. And I was like, well, I just graduated from my Masters in May of 2009. I love this case. I've always felt Colton was innocent and that he got railroaded. This trial felt like he got railroaded on the appeal. What did the written prove? Them innocent and get them out. The lawyers argue in their writ that the prosecutors and Coltons trial had an obligation to find those notes from the therapy session.

[00:05:27]

A Supreme Court ruling from the 1960s called the Brady Rule, requires prosecutors to turn over any evidence that might be favorable to a defendant. Basically, Coltons. Lawyers say that the prosecutors were required by law to get any evidence that could clear Kolten under the Brady rule. They argue the prosecutors should have known there might have been evidence in Laura Hall's jail file that could clear Kolten, especially since the same people prosecuted both Kolten and Laura.

[00:05:57]

Coltons, other appeals lawyer, Joe Turner argues it would have been easy for them, and she documented it in ofman documented in the medical reports, which in fact were entered into the Travis County Sheriff's Office computer, which they have access to and which they cooperate with the DA's office all the time up to this point that the techniques haven't been able to get any hearings in state courts. Here's Colton's dad, Eddie.

[00:06:29]

It's because where we were new to this process didn't realize what happened at Texas. Court system is just zeroed on a printout of the case. They don't care about the truth. I mean, I'd say it bluntly with this. What we've experienced, you get a postcard from a judge or not even a judge. And I don't even think judges even read the stuff that sent to him. I think some clerk or sometimes writing it in. You know, we've even had people, well, maybe get a judge.

[00:06:53]

There shouldn't be the case. So if you think about the picture of our litigation from 2009 to 2010 in the state court where we were denied hearings, denied any opportunity to develop, in fact, is pretty frustrating. So we get denied by the Court of Criminal Appeals, which has jurisdiction on state writ.

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It's tough to win with a writ in Texas courts. The Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas's highest criminal court, denies about 95 percent of its submitted in a typical year. Perry told us this is due to the Texas justice systems obsession with finality of conviction. So the next step is to go into federal court. The writ about the therapy session makes its way to federal court in the western district of Texas, which also rules against Colton. Without a hearing when the writ fails, the baton team doesn't give up.

[00:07:41]

In fact, they try for an even higher court. They file a seaway or certificate of appeal ability. It may be a long shot, but if granted they could get a hearing in front of the federal 5th Circuit Court in New Orleans. I remember getting the I was at my home office that day working from home. I specifically remember exactly where I was. I was in my office and I opened my computer, got the notice from the Fifth Circuit, and I let out a shriek.

[00:08:07]

I and my wife goes, what happens? Like, what happened? I like that Grazioso I Grazioso. And she was like, oh my God, I don't know what that means. I was like, Yeah, I like the four circuits going on here, the paternity case.

[00:08:20]

She's like, oh my God, here's Colton talking about that. It just kind of blew my mind. I mean, you know, I've been in the system long enough to be Julie at that point that I didn't really get my expectations up. But as far as it was going through the Fifth Circuit, you know, they didn't have to take it, so they took it. And that oral argument on like, oh, yeah, they see something here.

[00:08:41]

So, you know, you think like, OK, I've got a confession of somebody else admitting to the crime that I'm in here for. So, I mean, at the minimum, you think, OK, I'm get to go back to trial. Perry's argument to the three judges at the 5th Circuit was recorded in the audio recordings. You can hear how passionate he is. You can almost picture him bouncing on his tiptoes and waving his index finger in the air as he accentuates the tail end of each sentence electronic jail file at the Travis County Sheriff's Office.

[00:09:07]

I mean, if we look at Exhibit six, it's showing that there's a host of information you can acquire about Laha. This is in the hands of the Travis County Sheriff's Office. It's not in some locked door. But regardless, once they knew she was talking to people, they had a duty to look through that whole file, whether it be the actual prosecutors or people in the investigating team, a failure to do that is a violation of Brady Boom done in October 2013.

[00:09:33]

The Fifth Circuit issues its ruling denied. The court's opinion gives several reasons for denying the writ. For one, the judges say that because Carrie Hoffman wasn't involved in investigating or preparing the case against Colton, prosecutors weren't required to get her therapy session recorded under the Brady rule. The judges also write that an alternative perpetrator defense would have not been successful anyway because Colton himself said he must have done it on the stand and because they said Laura Hall's confession lacked corroboration and detail after yet another court failure, this time at the 5th Circuit.

[00:10:14]

Colton's lawyers don't lose steam. They petitioned the Supreme Court. Their Supreme Court petition is denied as well, but this shouldn't come as a shock. The Supreme Court only accepts about two percent of cases. The loss in federal courts is a huge blow to the Pasternak's. This is Bridgit. It's like it's like having a wound and it just won't heal. You know, it just it starts to heal and you get hopeful that it's going to go away.

[00:10:46]

And then it's like, boom, there's another yet another wound to go with it. It just it just it's the getting the hopes up and the working hard and knowing that you've got something and then being told you have something. But we don't care, you know, it's just. It's hard. This is Perry again. Yeah, we were feeling great about the case, I was like, we're going to win this Brady argument and even if we lose that, we now have further evidence of actual innocence.

[00:11:26]

That was just given by Jason Mack. When we started this podcast, we had a lot of questions and not just about the case, getting a podcast to listeners like you isn't all that easy, but it can be with anchor and makes podcasting easy. And I know what you're thinking.

[00:11:46]

So I'll stop right here and say it's free, like really, really free for a student podcast. Like I was. That's a pretty, pretty, pretty good deal.

[00:11:55]

If you don't believe me, download and for free or go to Anchor FM and you'll see what I mean. You'll find tons of tools that'll help you with everything from recording and editing your podcast all the way to actually making some money for all your hard work. Oh, and anger doesn't require a minimum number of listeners on your episodes for the money to start rolling in. So there's an Anchor FM today or you get the anchor app to see what I mean.

[00:12:22]

It's July 2010, and Jason Mack is sitting in a Travis County holding cell. He's waiting to be transported to the county jail after a court hearing for driving without a valid license. Jason is no stranger to the system. The 28 year old has been in courtrooms like this before and behind bars. The holding cell area isn't large, but the chairs are divided into two sections for men and women. Jason sitting on the men's side when a woman wearing a pantsuit is brought into the holding cell, it's Laura Hall.

[00:12:55]

Jason knew Laura. He was a regular at the orange tree in the spring and summer of 2005. Jason also testified at Laura's trials that he had seen Colton abuse her. There are court documents to show the two together at the courthouse on the same day in July 2010. This is Jason. It was after court like everybody else already went back. We were the last two people there at court. It was odd because there was no the TVs weren't on.

[00:13:24]

There was no officer there, just that one lady. There's usually like a bunch of officers walking around back and forth, taking people to court and back and forth. But I guess we were like at the very end of the day, Laura tells him the news. Her prison sentence has been doubled. She was more mad than anything I did. It seemed like she was upset. I guess it didn't work out the way she planned or whatever her attorney told her didn't go the way they thought it was going to go.

[00:13:48]

But that's why I like this isn't like just like a regular crime like this, like something crazy, like people don't look at it the same way. When you had the five years, you should have just left it alone. Jason and Laura are both transported back to Death Valley Jail in the back of a van. And so they have me in the back of the van. They put her in first. And it's like a dog catcher band. Looks like, you know, I mean, like it's literally like a cage.

[00:14:13]

Like they put her in the one little cage and there's another guy in this other cage right here. And I'm right here in the last part in the back. And they transport us back to Del Valley. And then she talked to me some more. And she's like, there's like little holes like like, um, probably the size of a maybe a quarter. There's a bunch of little holes. This is what Jason says, Laura told him through those little holes, according to the affidavit he signed three years later, Colton and Jennifer got back to the orange tree after their night on Sixth Street.

[00:14:50]

But they're not alone when they get their lawyers at Colton's place in the back of the prison. Man Laura describes to Jason the argument she had with Jennifer that night. Laura tells him they were arguing about Colton being unconscious. Jennifer tells Laura that law is ruining Coltons life and she asks her to leave. Then Laura grabs the gun.

[00:15:15]

She said, I never would have killed that baby if you just shut her mouth. After this conversation, Jason and Laura are taken to their respective jails to serve their time, and this story gets locked up with them until three years later. In April of 2013, Eddie Potasnik hires private investigator Eddie Franka and he's asked to reinterview witnesses from the case. In August of that year, Francom visits Jason in the West Texas prison, where he's serving time for an aggravated robbery unrelated to the Jennifer Cave case.

[00:15:54]

Here's private investigator Eddie Franka. What I found most interesting about Jason Mack was that he wanted to give this information on behalf of a friend and he never asked for anything back. He never asked for money. He never asked for some commissary. He never asked for anything. He he specifically said he wanted to do this because it's the right thing to do.

[00:16:19]

And that's not all. He's willing to sign an affidavit. Here's Colton.

[00:16:26]

So then here comes Jason Mack and he says, here's the details. She told me what happened. And if I'm looking, I'm going through all my stuff and I'm like, this fits. You know, this is the picture is getting clearer and clearer.

[00:16:39]

Colton's lawyers prepare another report based on what Jason told them. Here's Kris Perry because she's angry. She has nothing to lose. She doesn't care anymore. She's got to go to prison for ten years and care anymore about saving herself. And she wants the best man that she's still way smarter than him because she's getting away with murder. Colton's lawyers decide to go after Laura Hall fully this time. In the report, the defense team includes photographs of Laura from when she was detained by U.S. Marshals after the trip to Mexico.

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In one, there's a semicircular wound on the back of her hand near her thumb. The defense team argues that it's a relatively recent bite mark. Another photo shows bruises that the lawyers contend to be about a week old. They also bring up a point made by medical examiner Elizabeth Peacock during Laura's trial, but not during Coltons, that Jennifer's autopsy revealed nearly all of her wounds were postmortem except for one. Jennifer had a wound on her hand that appeared to have occurred prior to or at the time of her death.

[00:17:50]

The lawyers contend it was a defensive wound. These points, when connected, lay the basis of what Coltons lawyers believe is a reasonable argument that Laura is an alternative perpetrator in the murder of Jennifer Cave and that there was a struggle between Laura and Jennifer Holton's apartment, private investigator Frank knows that Laura has a history of over sharing sensitive information with those around her. So he pays a visit to the RV park that her parents own to try and collect affidavits from neighbors that Laura might have talked to about the case.

[00:18:25]

One neighbor he interviewed says that in the summer of 2009, Laura told him, quote, I kept that fucking whore. Another neighbor says that same summer he had a conversation with Laura about how he would shoot a home invader.

[00:18:40]

Laura told him, quote, Well, you'll have to get rid of the body and you'll have to clean up all that blood on the carpet. In 2012, Laura's father tells reporter Stephen Crytek of the Austin American Statesman that the allegations about his daughter statements were ridiculous and made by people looking for publicity. People like the tenants at the RV park he owned, some of whom he was in legal battles with while in prison. Colton learns about all of this information, the conversations Laura has with his friends, her own neighbors, strangers, even.

[00:19:15]

He tries to put the pieces together. I mean, it's the circumstance.

[00:19:20]

It's everything that surrounds it, you know, because even from the beginning, you know, there was a time when you could have convinced me you were playing with a gun. Gun went off, you know, and it was an accident. You could convince me that a lot of points, you know, because there were some incidents like that playing with a gun in miles and went off or something like that. But you could never convince me as a murder.

[00:19:39]

I mean, there was that was this didn't happen, you know. But, you know, there was always like the question of, like, motive. Why, you know, why would I have even done it? And there's there's no answer to that. So that was always like if something happened and it was an accident, you know, there was never a question that I don't think anybody really ever question that, you know, because nobody ever there was nothing there.

[00:20:02]

But then, you know, you have Laura, she's got motive. She's got after she gets arrested, she's thrown in. The D.A. talking horrible about Jennifer, about her family, you know, just everybody involved and just keeps on keeps going and keeps on, you know? So it's it's just everything that the mutilation and stuff was just like it was like anger. You know, it was it was an emotional like there was something very emotional in that that, you know, some of those emotionally invested in it just I mean, everything like I said, it's not one you know, one big piece.

[00:20:36]

The defense team goes after Laura's alibi a week. Yeah. Characterized as extremely weak. I characterize it as convenient. I'd characterize it as unbelievable.

[00:20:48]

Ryan Martindale, who testifies at Coltons trial, that Laura was at his place sleeping on his couch when Jennifer was murdered initially wasn't so sure about that. When he talked to the police, he told an Austin police detective that he didn't remember Laura staying at his apartment on August 16th, but said she did stay on his couch sometime that week. He just couldn't remember what day it was originally in his statement to the police tells the police that he did not recall Laha spending the night of August 16th in the August 17, 2005, and Ryan Martin and Star salesmen's apartment.

[00:21:28]

Then there's Martindale's roommate, Star Salsman. He testified that Colton and Laura swung by the apartment on the way to Mexico to grab the bottle of rum. Laura had left there the night before, but before the trial, Salzman told police he actually didn't remember seeing Laura on their couch the night of the murder. He said that she'd stayed overnight before, but he couldn't exactly remember the last time she had stayed over. Stock car salesman also did not recall that, but they recalled something very important.

[00:21:58]

A couple. They recalled that a couple of days later, about a day or two after the murder, Paul and Colton stopped by the Salesman Martindale residence. So I think a good detective question that our detectives didn't ask is why did swordsmen and Martindale's want a salesman so clearly remember Hall and Potasnik stopping by the day after, but he has no recollection of Laura Hall being the day before. Jason Mack signs another affidavit in the fall of 2013 saying that he had once witness a conversation between Laura and Ryan Martindale.

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It seemed to him that Martindale didn't like Colton because he had feelings for Laura himself. Coltons lawyers contend that Martin covered for Laura. The prosecutors in Coltons trial expressed some uncertainty themselves about Laura's involvement in the crime. They wrote an article called The Murder Next Door in a magazine for district attorneys. In it, they write that they knew that there was a mixture of Colton and Laura's DNA on the murder weapon and that Laura's alibi witnesses were initially uncertain of the exact dates.

[00:23:12]

They called Laura a wild card Coltons. Defense lawyer Sam Bassett didn't go after Laura when he represented Carlton at his original trial, but he signed an affidavit in June 2014 saying that if his defense team had the evidence presented in this writ, he would have changed their strategy to cast Laura Hall as an alternative perpetrator. The defense team sent private investigator Eddie Francom to find the 12 jurors and two alternate jurors who served on Coltons trial to present the new evidence to them.

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Francom found eight of the 14 five of these jurors stated in light of the new evidence, they have a reasonable doubt of Pattani guilt and would have voted not guilty. A sister said she believes that the new evidence creates a reasonable doubt about Coltons guilt, but didn't want to sign an affidavit. A seven juror refused to be interviewed and the eighth refused to even look at the match affidavits. Here's Perry talking about that. So, well, that has no impact in law because any juror statements are inadmissible, but I do think that as a human being, which judges are they should maybe look put that in the back of their mind when they're doing their prejudice or harm analysis, because our number one goal has to be avoiding putting innocent people in prison.

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A number one goal cannot be the finality of these convictions. The botanic team went back to federal court in twenty fifteen to file this report. It was rejected without a hearing with a one paragraph ruling that said, quote, We do not recognize a claim of actual innocence. The Potasnik team petitioned to the US Supreme Court, but as of now, the High Court hasn't taken up the case. Here's Kolten.

[00:25:09]

I mean, short of getting basically a video of me being somewhere else at the time, I mean, you know, what do they want?

[00:25:16]

Once a jury says it's guilty, it's fact, and then they worship it because it allows you to sleep at night. If you don't think about the fact that the people that are actually behind these verdicts are fallible. So what it says about Texas justice system is that justice here is inaccurate during our process reporting on this case. We contacted UT Law School Professor Chris Roberts to give us context on some of the complicated legal maneuverings we weren't familiar with.

[00:25:44]

He's also the director of the Criminal Defense Clinic at UT. He was eager to help us. Roberts says a jury verdict isn't the only reason why appeals in Rets lose again.

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Very general judges don't revel in overruling what another judge did. You know, there's a lot of things in the system itself in the way that the appellate court rules work that say, will you give the benefit of the doubt? So at the first level, they're going to give the benefit of the doubt to the trial judge in any number of instances, because they are the ones sitting there listening to the evidence.

[00:26:23]

Hi, I'm Hayley, senior producer at the Drag Journalism Students and Recent Grads Report Right and produce the podcast that come out of the drag. Help us turn these students into the next leaders in immersive, long form audio storytelling by donating at the drag audio dotcom donate. One spring day during our last semester. But to you and I were notified that we had a phone message waiting for us with the journalism school's receptionist, it was from Eddie Potasnik. We had not tried to reach out to Colton's parents yet.

[00:27:03]

Eddie found us. Colton told him that we requested an interview and Eddie wanted to know who we were and why we wanted to talk to his son. He's a great dad. And I think, you know, that's his purpose in life, is to get me out of here, you know, to be able to spend some time with me, you know, and like I said, it wasn't for them.

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You know, I don't know what I would have done over the next several months. We came to know Eddie as an investigator himself. He's the one funding all of Coltons legal maneuverings, paying for a stable of lawyers and investigators. And he has a mountain of files and almost as many theories about what happened on that horrible night in 2005. Joe Turner, who had worked on Coltons appeals, told Eddie and Bridget that winning any appeal would be an uphill battle.

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You know, I've told Eddie many times, stop spending the money. You know, years ago I said, you're not going to get justice in these appellate courts. And I hate to say that as a lawyer, you know that I was telling him that. But I said, look what's going on here. You're spending a fortune and we're not going to get this justice. But to his tenacity and, you know, as a father, you can't go up, give up on your son.

[00:28:18]

And he never has given up on Colton. One of Eddie's biggest complaints about the process is the strategy that Coltons original lawyers, Sam Bassett and Roy Minton took.

[00:28:31]

For one, he believes those lawyers should have listened to Henriette and back the prisoner who said Laura talk to her right after being arrested.

[00:28:41]

Eddie says he and Bridget weren't included in any of the processes with Coltons defense team leading up to his trial. We thought we had a good attorneys hands, so we were just trusting them. And and may I use the getting away stuff, too? I'm going to jump in the middle of something. So I stayed out of the way and didn't didn't put my two cents worth or anything, which was a big mistake. Joe Turner Respect's, Roy Mintern.

[00:29:07]

But the strategy he took in Coltons case surprised him. They gave up too much. You know, I know Mitton has kind of turned a lot of his practice to the civil area the last decade or two. He wasn't trying that many murder cases in the last 20 years. I'm not taking anything away from in my opinion, he's the best that ever tried him. But I don't think that I think he gave up too much in this case. I would not have tried it like he did.

[00:29:40]

And I was surprised that he tried it like that.

[00:29:42]

Colton regrets going with the strategy that Sam Basset and Rimmington used in his original trial. I mean, what do I do to roll the dice on my life? OK, so you want me to go in and say this is an accident? Well, to remember accidentally killing. You know what? No, you can testify to that. I'm like, what are we doing? Well, just go in there and just be honest, just so you don't remember it.

[00:30:06]

I'm like, you want me to get on the stand and say, OK, I think I killed my but I don't remember. I'm like, you know, it's bad enough you want me to go in there and own a crime being committed and be like I did this. I'm sorry. You know, it's bad enough to do that. But I'm like, OK, maybe this is some lawyer's strategy to make sure I'll spend the rest of my life in prison.

[00:30:25]

But now you want me to go in there and say, well, I probably did it, you know? I mean, that's no legal strategy. On top of that, when we what are we doing?

[00:30:35]

You know? And Sam Bassett says the team strategy of saying Colton accidentally killed Jennifer was the best they had at the time.

[00:30:43]

First, Laura Hall wasn't talking to us. We didn't have any information from her. She was represented by counsel, so we couldn't interview her or talk to her. The other thing, for a long time, we didn't make up our mind about a theory. We were looking at every every alternative so that the alternative perpetrator theory was was discussed up until close to trial was not we had not eliminated it. Once we interviewed the person she was at the apartment with, I think his name was Martin Dale.

[00:31:13]

We interviewed him in person and we looked at the text message traffic. We didn't feel like that was a viable theory.

[00:31:22]

But Joe Turner believes that there was enough evidence to pursue an alternative perpetrator theory earlier in the case. She had the motive.

[00:31:29]

And look, the Martindale testimony where he says that she the alibi that she had was complete. I could destroy that alibi. She didn't have a tight alibi on his lawyer's recommendation.

[00:31:45]

Colton sat in jail in Austin for 17 months while awaiting his trial. Here's Eddie Colton's dad talking about that.

[00:31:55]

And then we didn't bail him out. You know, that didn't look too good either. You know, at the time, you know, I never thought about it to this podcast came up, but we were doing, again, just what we were told to do.

[00:32:04]

Sam Bassett doesn't remember recommending that to Colton or his family, but he does say that there is logic behind that decision.

[00:32:12]

Hypothetically, I can say that sometimes when clients are having issues with alcohol and drugs, it's not a good idea for them to be out of jail immediately because it could create more problems than than if they're if they're not in custody. I mean, if they're than they're if they're in custody.

[00:32:31]

I don't remember if that was a particular factor in this case, but I can imagine it could have been we were unable to talk to the now retired Riminton for this podcast.

[00:32:44]

Since the guilty verdict. Eddie keeps digging. He keeps sending out investigators to look for new leads, keeps asking his lawyers to file more appeals. It's January 8th, 2015, Kolten receives a Jipé, it's like an email you would pay for in prison. It's from someone named Michael Christopher Colton doesn't remember this name, but Christopher says he's an old friend who just got out of prison himself. And Christopher says he'd like to talk to him. Colton reaches out to his dad, who then contacts private investigator Eddie Francom to look into.

[00:33:25]

Christopher Colton also wants a photo of Christopher to jar his memory and provides a short bio and a few photos of Christopher. Colton recognizes him as black. Mick, the nickname Christopher, went by back in 2005 when they knew each other. Francom goes to the Dallas Fort Worth area to meet with Christopher.

[00:33:46]

Next thing you know, we're sitting on his couch and he starts telling me the story about the night Jennifer was killed.

[00:33:57]

And I had never heard of Michael Christopher before.

[00:34:00]

In February of twenty seventeen, Christopher signs an affidavit. This is what he says in it. He hung out regularly at Colton's place back in 2005 and he owed Colton about five thousand dollars during the time of Jennifer's murder. Colton calls him saying he needs the money. So Christopher decides to go to the orange tree at three a.m. to pay him, which is around the same time that prosecutors believe Jennifer was killed. He saw and spoke to Colton Potasnik and Jennifer Cave.

[00:34:31]

Another guy who went by Byrd was also there. Colton was acting normally for him, which means he was drunk and high. Christopher leaves the apartment at 5:00 a.m. and, quote, No one was dead. And Colton, Jennifer and Byrd were still there. He says he remembers the date so well because he himself was arrested on August 18th for an unrelated crime.

[00:34:56]

I had no idea this was coming.

[00:34:58]

I had absolutely no idea. So it was like really big news because we just shot a big old bullet in the state's timeline, which is kind of a big deal. Um, was this new evidence? I thought that it might be because no one knew who Michael Christopher was. I mean, the JP said his real name. No one knew his real name. Francom then tracks down Bird, the only name Christopher remembers. It's all they said was barred and of course, my next question is who is Bird?

[00:35:29]

And his response was, I don't know. I don't know his real name. I first met with Michael Christopher in twenty fifteen. And then, um. It wasn't until twenty seventeen that I was able to finally meet with with Bert Francom finds out Bird's name is actually Bradley Brown. Brown signed an affidavit a month after Christopher signs his this is his story. Brown and three other friends show up at Unit eight around eight 15 p.m. before Kolten and Jennifer go down to Sixth Street.

[00:36:05]

Brown sold drugs for Kolten, and that night he was waiting on a new supplier to come in, Kolten and Jennifer Leaf's six three and the four guys stayed behind at the orange tree. Brown says other drug dealers and some buyers stopped by the apartment while they're gone. Eventually, Colton and Jennifer get back to the apartment and Christopher comes by at three a.m. to pay Kolten the money he owes him. Everyone's partying and using drugs. No one's fighting. And around 5:00 a.m., Christopher leaves.

[00:36:36]

At five, fifteen, five or six people are passed out in Colton's apartment. Including Jennifer, who's still alive, Colten says there are too many people in his apartment and he needs to be alone, so he leaves, Brown sees this as a chance to Rob Colton and take the money Christopher had left him, as well as some of Coltons drugs. He hurries out of the apartment, leaving behind his backpack with his Texas I.D. in it. Colton calls him later that day saying he wants his money back, but Bird never sees him again.

[00:37:10]

Brown remembers his backpack and returns to the orange tree to retrieve it. But he finds himself walking up to a crime scene. He asks a police officer at the scene if it was true that a murder had happened. The officers want to question him, but Brown doesn't want to get involved in a murder investigation. Brown says he has never talked to anyone else involved in the case except for Eddie Francom, the private investigator.

[00:37:39]

If Christopher and Brown are telling the truth, the one to three a.m. time of death established at Coltons trial would be wrong. Francom says Brown and Christopher could be more than just witnesses.

[00:37:51]

It's not just a punch in the timeline. It's now we have alternative suspects who had motive. And they had opportunity to commit this crime, the murder of Jennifer. Both Christopher and Brown say they're willing to testify on Coltons behalf. Here's Kolten talking about that. The Brierly Brown, the myself coming out was huge because I was like there was a huge gap right there in the middle and it was hard to account for that. They could always say, well, this happened here.

[00:38:25]

What happened between these hours?

[00:38:28]

The baton exit hired two more well-respected Austin lawyers, John Jazeerah and David Schulman. Jazeera uses Christopher and Brown stories to file a report saying the state's timeline of the night Jennifer was killed is off. That might Christopher established the fact that Colton could not have committed the crime as alleged by the state. Not that he couldn't have committed the crime, but he certainly did not do so in the time constraints set out by the state in their in their case. Remember Nora Sullivan's testimony about Colton coming over to her place at 3:00 a.m.?

[00:39:04]

She said he was telling her wild stories about a shootout. Well, it turns out after she read Christopher Brown's affidavits, she thinks she might have been wrong. She says she was on meth that night and there's a chance that Colton could have come by as late as five. Fifteen a.m. she signed an affidavit saying all of this in August. Twenty seventeen. Coltons lawyers say Christopher and Brown had good reason not to come forward with their stories in 2007 for Coltons original trial.

[00:39:37]

Christopher is in jail.

[00:39:38]

He's in prison for nine years and he's not going anywhere and he knows nothing about the situation. Why doesn't Brown come forward? Bob Brown's a dope dealer and he needs to get involved in murder like, you know, you do. Well, the other thing, too, is if if the timeline that we presented was true.

[00:39:57]

That he's coming in and saying, no, no, she was alive when when called and left and then, by the way, I took all the money and the drugs and left all that impliedly points the finger at him. Maybe he's the one that shot her. The other thing is, is that everyone should remember that we did not instigate this. This was instigated by my Christopher. And why would he do it? Why would he bring this thing forward?

[00:40:23]

He's out. He's on parole. He's got everything to lose. Why would he say I was dealing dope with Colton Bertoni? I mean, it makes no sense unless he's telling us the truth. The Potasnik team asks for a hearing to see if a judge agrees that there's enough here to go forward. They get one.

[00:40:42]

But five days before the August six twenty eighteen hearing, Michael Black, Mike Christopher and Bradley Bird Brown are indicted on perjury charges for their statements. In the affidavits, the state argues that Brown was in prison when Jennifer was killed and couldn't have been at the orange tree, so Christopher couldn't have seen them there. The state provides copies of Brown's court records that indicate he was in jail from mid-June to mid-October 2005. The murder happened in the early morning hours of August 17th.

[00:41:16]

Both men are given court appointed lawyers, but more than that, they go through the charade of appointing counsel for each of them and say, well, you have 10 minutes to discuss this with your clients. And the question is, should you testify? There's not a lawyer in the city of Austin that would tell them to testify with 10 minutes worth of investigation. Here's Colton talking about that.

[00:41:38]

Attorneys go to him basically, you know, hey, this is bullshit. But if you don't get on the stand, they can't charge you. So I go into the hearing. I don't have my new witnesses now, nor is going to get on the stand and basically say that everything she testified to was basically just precise bullshit, you know, which we knew, you know, her first statement. I didn't even see him that night. Second statement, I think I might have seen them there.

[00:42:01]

You know, it gets clear and clear. And now all of a sudden it's at this time. NEVERSON Well, I think there was a bloodstain on his arm. I mean, that could have been a mosquito bite, you know, and it just gets clear and clear. But she was following. You can get up there and basically be like, yeah, this is bullshit. You know, I was on drugs. And then she gave her statement.

[00:42:18]

You know, she's basically coached, but I can't put her on the stand because now they're not there. So I go into court with nothing. So they're like, well, we're going to Section four, which is abusive. Right. And, you know, back to prison for you. In the rules governing read, Section four defines what can be considered new evidence and a record only move forward if a judge says the evidence is truly new. State District Judge Clifford Brown ruled that the affidavits are not new evidence because Coltons team should have known to reach out to Christopher and Brown before his trial in two thousand seven.

[00:42:56]

Judge Brown denies the writ 10 days after the hearing, although at this point Christopher and Brown were only indicted for perjury, not convicted. The judge agrees with the state that they perjured themselves. He also says that Nora Sullivan's testimony would not be credible since she cited Christopher Brown's affidavits as part of the reason she had become less sure about the timeline. At Hypertonic often writes reflections after major court maneuverings, his notes from this one show that Christopher decided not to testify.

[00:43:30]

Brown and Norah Sullivan were still ready to talk, but the judge didn't allow witnesses. Eddie Potasnik rails against the local media for not attending the hearing and hammers the DA's office and the judge, he says they were more interested in the finality of the verdict.

[00:43:49]

And as for the perjury charges, he says the records showing Brown being in jail at the time of Jennifer's murder or questionable, and he feels the issue should have been resolved at the hearing, even though the state included records showing that Brown was in jail.

[00:44:06]

Eddie Potasnik points out that prosecutors also included records showing Brown's community service had been revoked at the time when he was supposed to be sitting in jail. Despite this, Christopher and Brown both eventually pled guilty to perjury. They were each sentenced to one year in prison in 2019, Colton's lawyer, John Yasuda, told us that Brown swore to private investigator Frank that Christopher was out on bond at the time of Jennifer's murder and that he was there at the orange tree that night.

[00:44:41]

But Colton's team wasn't able to get the daily logs from the Travis County jail to verify that. We asked Coltons lawyers if they had looked into Brown's record to see if he'd ever gotten out on bond around the time of Jennifer's death. Just said they didn't look into it because after the perjury charge was sprung on them, it was too late to matter whether or not he was actually out. So we looked into ourselves. We went down to pretrial services.

[00:45:09]

No, I think we gave him this this whole one. And from any time between, like before his before when he was arrested to December.

[00:45:19]

Is there any way to tell if he was released for any reason that we don't have anything after after several back and forth between the employees of the district clerk's office and pretrial services to Beige Room, separated by an equally beige hallway, we learned that Brown wasn't approved for personal bond in 2005. But when we asked if he could have been out in any other capacity, the answer was less clear. The employee said that Brown could have been out on bond through a bail bond service or through his attorney, but that information wasn't in their records.

[00:45:55]

Despite their guilty pleas to perjury charges, no one could tell us for certain whether Brown was out at the time of the murder or not. Private investigator Frank thinks the prosecution charged Christopher and Brown to keep them silent. I think it's terrible.

[00:46:11]

I think it's absolutely terrible what the state did to those two guys. I mean, there were witnesses on a case in order to shut them up. They arrested them.

[00:46:23]

It's not over for the Potasnik team, at least they hope not, as we were producing this podcast in April of twenty twenty appeals lawyer took another shot at getting heard by the Texas court system.

[00:46:35]

They argued that the state's highest court should take another look at the earlier reports based on multiple witnesses saying Laura confessed to killing Jennifer.

[00:46:44]

And they have a new witness in this filing, an inmate by the name of Rhonda Glover. Glover says Laura confessed to killing Jennifer before Coltons trial. Clover's affidavit says Laura said she, quote, kept that bitch and repeatedly said Colton was innocent Coltons. Lawyers say this newly found witness is the fifth time they have been told that Laura confessed to killing Jennifer. Colton's lawyer told us the state courts don't have to take up or even respond to the recommendation to look at the rates again, and they're not feeling optimistic that the justices will either.

[00:47:22]

The Baton Jacks are clearly frustrated with the system, but Jennifer's parents, Sharon and Jim, have their own frustrations with it beyond the devastation of losing Jennifer.

[00:47:32]

They, too, have had a tough time. Navigating through the justice system was a rude awakening.

[00:47:39]

That victim's family is, as the Texas saying, will go. You don't have a dog in the fight. You don't have any notification of anything that happens. You are at the mercy of the victim services professionals, which were absolutely stunningly amazing.

[00:47:59]

It is the state of Texas versus Colton Potasnik. There's only so much as her parents that we can do. Because it is the state of Texas case, it is not my case, and that is extremely hard to say, be hard to hear and three, hard to endure that, as Jim said earlier, that we don't have a dog in this fight. The first time that I realized that. This wasn't. Our case. I, I, I still have a hard time and I still have a hard time catch my breath about it.

[00:48:55]

Uh. They don't call it the criminal justice system because it has a snappy ring to it. And victims, victims can really, really. Really get lost. Alison Wetzel, who prosecuted Laura during her resentencing, feels the baton you have had more than enough chances.

[00:49:20]

Colton's family seemed to have an unlimited amount of resources to pay attorneys and his attorneys seem to have an unlimited number of people who were willing to sign an affidavit saying that. Laura had confessed to them doing the murder, so they have they have raised that over and over and over again. Here's Jim once again.

[00:49:52]

Most people don't realize you think you get through the trial when somebody is convicted and sentenced and, OK, I'm done with this and you're just getting started. I mean, literally. Well, that was in January 31st of 07, and we were still doing appeals in late eighteen and when this was late 18. So it's it's goes on for quite how much money you got.

[00:50:20]

If you're if you're the if you're the defendant, how much money do you have? Because if you've got money, you can keep throwing money at the appellate process.

[00:50:29]

But Jennifer's family still goes to every appeal and every hearing.

[00:50:35]

Why do we go? Because as much as I thought that testimony was, the last thing I could do is Jennifer's mom. It was just the beginning of being Chim's Jennifer's mom in a different role and. There's not going to be a setting, there's not going to be anything, we don't list anything that is about our daughter that we're going to miss, I wouldn't miss I wouldn't miss a soccer game. I wouldn't miss anything else. And certainly. Certainly.

[00:51:14]

Not going to miss this, and I am always going to make sure that this is done right. Next on the Orange Tree, since the beginning, Eddie and Bridget have believed in their son's innocence. You know, we're going to keep fighting and we're going to keep fighting until is sitting at my dinner table. Colton remains in prison in Abilene, Texas. You know, there's got to be there's got to be some kind of some truth to come out.

[00:51:49]

Sharon has returned to door eighty at the orange tree multiple times over the years since the crime.

[00:51:57]

Still looking for the answer. In the summer of twenty nineteen, we found Laura Hall on Facebook, I friended her and sent her a message. And to our surprise, she messaged back. The Orange Tree is a production of the drag and audio production house that's a part of the University of Texas at Austin School of Journalism and the Moody College of Communication. It's reported, produced and hosted by me, Haley Butler and me to New Thomas. Our executive producer is Robert Quickly.

[00:52:35]

The studio sound engineer was David Alvarez. This podcast was created in partnership with Katie Austins, NPR station special thank you to Cutty's Debbie Whyatt, Matt Largey and Todd Callahan for their guidance, studio space and technical support. The podcast was fact checked by Lazarro. Pallavi got the Massu helps with story structure and editing news. Audiotape and trial footage in several episodes were generously provided by KXAN, Austins, NBC Station and CAVU Austins ABC Station. Christian MacDonald is the dregs.

[00:53:06]

Technical director Matty Thomasin designed the podcast artwork Sabrina Labov letter marketing and PR efforts working with the Moody College and Kutty special thanks to Kathleen McElroy, Alexis Chavez, Kelsey Repoll, Claire Boyle and David J.

[00:53:21]

Neff for their guidance and support. The drag is made possible thanks to the Dallas Morning News Innovation Endowment and by individual donations. Since the drug is part of the Muthee College at UT, we've had the help of several students who serve as associate producers for this podcast. They include Sidney Jones, Simmen Poola, Candace Baker, Tuesday, Dear Magazine, Reagan, Ritterbusch Allaster, Tulba, Riley Miller, Meredith Palmer, Kadija, Bill de Miah Forwards and Mikhaila Mondragón for the full list of students and others who helped with this podcast.

[00:53:56]

And for more details on the orange tree, check out our website, The Drag Audio Dotcom. While you're there, click on the donate button to support this podcast and the work of student journalists. The Drag is a non-profit organization, so we really appreciate your help. Also, please consider supporting Katie or your local NPR station. Hi, my name is Testbeds, and I'm Alyssa Hernandez, we're the host of Crooked Power, a podcast about how the free press stood firm against the crooked power.

[00:54:33]

This story is incredibly personal to society because it is actually about his family and how they were prosecuted by a former president of Ecuador. This podcast series will make its debut in 2021 as part of the drag and audio production house at the University of Texas at Austin.