Courts • Kody Cree Patten, convicted in murder of friend, says "I apologize for everything."
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Elko • "Your blood runs cold, Mr. Patten."
Elko District Judge Dan Papez offered that opinion of Kody Cree Patten before ordering the 19-year-old to spend the rest of his life in prison for the murder of his childhood friend, Micaela Costanzo.
Before handing down a sentence of life without the possibility of parole on Friday, Papez called Patten's crime "one of the worst kinds of murder" because it was premeditated and vicious.
"Your acts of planning this murder, carrying out this murder in such a vicious manner…are hardly the acts of an impulsive, irrational, immature teenage mind," he told Patten. "You always had the power and ability to stop the wheels of this murder that you put into motion. You chose not to."
Patten's attorneys had asked the judge to consider their client's age when they asked for life in prison with the possibility of parole in 40 years. But prosecutors, along with Costanzo's family, wanted the judge to put Patten away for life.
"This man should never see the light of day," said Micaela's mother, Celia Costanzo, during testimony at the sentencing hearing. "He took my daughter's life. He didn't give her a chance to finish high school or to get married or to have children or to go to college. He had no right to take her so he has no right to have a life or to have anything because he took it all away from Micaela. He should never be let free to do this ever again."
Patten pleaded guilty in May to first-degree murder with a deadly weapon.
Police and prosecutors say that in March 2011, Patten and his girlfriend, 19-year-old Toni Fratto, took 16-year-old Costanzo from West Wendover High School, where she had just finished track practice, to the desert west of the border town. There, according to prior testimony, Patten and Fratto hit Costanzo with a camping shovel. Patten then cut Costanzo's throat with the shovel and a knife, while Fratto sat on Costanzo's legs, before burying her in a shallow grave. Fratto and Patten then went across the border to Utah, where they burned Costanzo's possessions.
Fratto pleaded guilty earlier this year to a lesser charge of second-degree murder and was sentenced in April to up to life in prison, with parole possible after 18 years. At sentencing, Elko County District Attorney Mark Torvinen called the slaying as "horrific a murder as I suspect you will ever see."
As part of Fratto's plea deal, the woman spoke at length with prosecutors about the slaying and agreed to testify against Patten if he went to trial.
Patten's Friday sentencing in Elko District Court was emotionally charged for both families. Patten's mother, father and brother all testified they could never imagine him killing his friend.
"It is very unlike him," said his mother, Donna Patten. "Micaela was our friend. We loved her. She was Kody's best friend. It made no sense at all."
Patten, clad in a black suit and free of restraints, also addressed the court. But even he could not explain why he murdered Costanzo.
"Why this happened, I have no idea," he said, pausing between sentences to regain his composure. "It was senseless. I've even talked to my family about it. There's no reason. There's no why. There's no justification for it. Sorry is not enough, but I apologize for everything."
Costanzo's family said their lives haven't been the same since the teen was murdered 17 months ago. Both Celia Costanzo and Micaela's older sister, Kristina Lininger, work as blackjack dealers in West Wendover's casinos. On a near daily basis, Celia Costanzo said someone recognizes her as "the mother of the girl who was murdered."
Lininger said visitors often ask her if she knew the murdered girl.
"As a blackjack dealer, I can't just walk away," she said. "I have to say, yes, I did know her. She was my sister. And you just have to sit there."
Micaela's father, Theodore Anthony Costanzo Jr., said he was "very angry" about his daughter's murder.
"You had no right, kid," he said, pointing his finger towards Patten. "No right to do that. I have a question for you, though. Why did you harm her?"
While Costanzo's family clapped and hugged after Patten's sentence was read, his family was stoic as they filed out of court.
During her testimony, Donna Patten said her family, too, has lost someone. She said her son's dog was all they had left of him.
"This damn dog," she said through tears. "He had to have this dog. I told him no, and my husband no, and we got it, of course. Today, that's all I have left of him."