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Judge orders life sentence for murder 'as violent as I've seen'

Hurting families still puzzled over why Wendover teen was killed

Published: Monday, April 16 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

Toni Collette Fratto, 19, reacts as she receives a life sentence in the murder of fellow West Wendover High School student Micaela Costanzo, Monday, April 16, 2012, in Elko District Court, Elko, Nev.

Ross Andreson, AP

ELKO, Nev. — Facing the family of the West Wendover High School classmate she admitted to help murdering, Toni Fratto delivered a tearful apology.

"I would like to apologize for my actions and the tragedy that has happened. I know what I did was wrong," she said Monday before she was sentenced. "I'm sorry for what I did to Micaela and for what I did not do, protect her. It does not change what happened. But I do mean I'm sorry."

Fratto avoided a possible death sentence by entering a plea deal in January, pleading guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder. She admitted that she and 19-year-old Kody Cree Patten, whom she was reportedly planning to marry, kidnapped and killed 16-year-old Micaela "Mickey" Costanzo after school, taking her to a remote area near the Utah-Nevada border, killing her and then burying her in a shallow grave.

Fratto admitted she hit Micaela in the back of the head with a shovel and sat on the teen's legs while Patten slashed her throat on March 3, 2011.

Monday, Elko District Judge Daniel Papez gave Fratto the maximum penalty the law allows, sentencing her to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Fratto also received a 20-year weapons enhancement penalty which will begin after her life sentence is over.

"This is as violent (a murder) as I've seen in 20 years on the bench," Papez said. "The attack on Micaela was brutal, it was vicious, it was violent — all shockingly so."

Referring to the medical examiner's report, Papez said the girl's death was slow and torturous.

Fratto will serve a minimum of 18 years in prison. She will be eligible for parole in 10 years. Once she is paroled on her murder conviction, she will serve a minimum of eight years on her enhancement penalty.

But while her family and attorneys say Fratto has taken responsibility for her actions, the question of why Micaela was killed still remained unanswered Monday.

"That's the biggest question in all of this. She just (said to) me a few days ago, 'Why? Why, why, why did this happen? I don't understand,'" Cassie Fratto, Toni's mother, said after the sentencing.

Patten is scheduled to go on trial July 31 on a charge of first-degree murder. Prosecutor Mark Torvinen filed notice that he intends to seek the death penalty if Patten is convicted.

Monday, Cassie Fratto said there are elements of the case that have not yet been made public. "There's things that lead up to that night that no one is aware of yet," she said.

When Patten picked up Fratto the night of Micaela's murder, he had already been driving around with Micaela in his truck for about 90 minutes. Cassie Fratto said when Patten picked up her daughter, she had no idea what was going to happen. Toni Fratto actually thought her own life was in danger, her mother said.

"She did not believe that she would ever see her family again. She knew her life was in danger," Cassie Fratto said. "She knew Kody very well. We all knew Kody very well. She knew Kody, and she knew the frame of mind he was in that night. And she knew as soon as she got in the car, she told me, 'Mom, I knew I wasn't coming home.'"

When asked to explain why his client went along with the killing and didn't try to help Micaela, defense attorney John Springgate didn't have an answer.

"We're pretty clear that adolescents do unbelievably stupid things. And her psychological profile shows that she is, while she's 19 years old now, mentally and emotionally she is much younger. And typically adolescents do not think things out," he said.

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