We thought the case was a real dangerous case in point of view of the death penalty. —Defense attorney John Ohlson
ELKO, Nev. — Kody Cree Patten's eyes and jaw were fixed, his face empty when he walked into the courtroom Wednesday.
The 19-year-old was quiet and, at times, emotional as he pleaded guilty to brutally murdering his West Wendover High School classmate, 16-year-old Micaela "Mickey" Costanzo.
In accepting a plea deal and agreeing to plead guilty to first-degree murder, he spared himself from a trial and potential death penalty.
But Micaela's family still isn't closer to understanding a motive for the murder. Patten's attorney said his client will explain a different version of events surrounding the death than has been previously told when he is sentenced in July.
"Is it your admission and confession here in court that you willfully and unlawfully, with malice, forethought, premeditation and deliberation, killed and murdered Micaela Costanzo?" Judge Daniel Papez asked.
"Yes," Patten replied.
Defense attorney John Ohlson said the plea agreement was one they were hoping for, especially after hearing the murder scenario that Patten's co-defendant, Toni Fratto, 19, told prosecutors last month.
"We thought the case was a real dangerous case in point of view of the death penalty," he said.
Patten and Fratto, his then-girlfriend, were both charged with murder. The pair took Micaela from the school on March 3, 2011, to a remote desert area near the Utah-Nevada border.
Patten told investigators he twice pushed Micaela to the ground during a fight, the second time causing her to hit her head on a rock. He claimed she then went into "some sort of seizure," causing him to panic and strike her in the head with a shovel.
Fratto — who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the killing and was sentenced to 18 years to life in prison — said she struck Micaela on the back with a shovel and sat on her legs while Patten cut the girl's throat.
But Fratto also testified that she was in the car when Micaela actually died and has said multiple times she doesn't know why she participated in the murder.
The girl's mother, Cassie Fratto, has said her daughter was influenced by Patten and was abused by him. At one point, the two had planned to get married.
Ohlson said Wednesday that Patten denies cutting Micaela's throat. His client has a much different account of the events that will come forward during Patten's sentencing. Their two stories differ "diametrically," he said.
"I'm not sure what all the truth is, but I don't think it abides with her," said Ohlson.
The defense attorney has Fratto's journals and said they are "full of venom" towards Micaela. Patten's involvement was to initially bring the two girls together for a fight.
"Things went bad really fast and people panicked," he said. "There's plenty of blame to go around in this case between the two of them."
Still, Ohlson said he doesn't understand how it escalated the way it did.
"I have a hard time conceiving of a good motive for it," he said.
That question is what plagues Micaela's family the most.
"That's what I'd like to hear, is why," her grandmother, Dorothy Payne said Wednesday. "It's tearing me apart."
Payne said Micaela was always quick to help and support her and lived with her for many years on the family's ranch. Now, the girl is with her every day as she has now been buried on the land.
"She was always there for me," Payne said. "Always. She was there when her grandpa died, when I went through cancer. She was always there."
Micaela's sister, Kristina Lininger, said she is glad Patten's case didn't go to trial as scheduled in July. The plea is just one step closer to the end.
"I'm feeling happy with the way it's been going," she said. "It's going down the right path."
Patten faces a number of sentences, including life in prison without parole and life in prison with the possibility of parole. Either way, Lininger said she just wants him put away so he can never hurt anyone else.
"I'm glad that it's coming to an end and we can start to heal," she said.
Patten's parents were at the hearing, but did not comment afterward. Patten cried when he entered his plea and had to wipe his eyes a number of times while reading through the plea agreement.
"He is 19 and never going home," Ohlson said, "on top of living with what he's done."
Patten will be sentenced July 31.