WEST WENDOVER, Nev. — Trial dates for two engaged teenagers accused of killing a West Wendover classmate and burying her body in a shallow grave in the desert have been set.
There are still questions, however, whether either case will be plea bargained first. And if not, will prosecutors seek a possible death sentence against Kody Cree Patten if he is convicted?
Patten, 18, and 19-year-old Toni Fratto are accused of killing 16-year-old West Wendover High School student Micaela "Mickey" Costanzo on March 3. The cases of each defendant are being held separately. Both were bound over for trial following preliminary hearings in Elko, Nev.
Fratto's case is now scheduled to begin Feb. 13, 2012, and Patten's on March 12, 2012. Both trials are expected to run two weeks.
One of Patten's attorneys is John Ohlson, a Reno-based lawyer who is the lone defense attorney in the rural regions of northern Nevada qualified to handle potential death penalty cases. He said it was the only reason he was asked to be part of this case.
But as of Tuesday, the Elko District Attorney's Office had not filed an official notice of intent to seek the death penalty should Patten be convicted. The only indication, so far, was a mention by District Attorney Mark Torvenin during an earlier hearing that the death sentence was being considered.
"We've been trying to settle our case from the beginning without any success. If that current attitude remains, then we'll be at trial," Ohlson said.
Attorneys for each defendant are pointing fingers, claiming the other is more culpable for Micaela's death than their own clients. Fratto's attorneys say their client, despite a taped confession, is completely innocent and gave a false confession to show support for her boyfriend.
Patten's attorneys say it was Fratto who was the "freight train" behind the killing, despite Patten's own taped confession in which he never mentions Fratto.
Ohlson said Tuesday that the investigator for his office has recently dug up new information about the case which he declined to divulge Tuesday.
Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Dan Papaz last week in court said 150 prospective jurors would be screened for each trial.
Ohlson said his office would be looking into whether to file a change of venue motion. In Nevada, a judge will listen to arguments regarding a change of venue only after all prospective jurors have been interviewed and there is a determination that a fair trial may not be possible, he said.
For Elko County, it would be the first potential death penalty case in about 15 years.
During a court hearing last week, Patten and Fratto had hearings back-to-back in the judge's courtroom. While one hearing ended and the other was about to begin, Fratto and Patten found themselves in the courtroom together. Ohlson said because of the logistics of moving inmates in and out, they would not have had an opportunity to talk to each other.