WENDOVER — It was a murder that left the entire city of West Wendover, Nev., shaken.
In 2011, 16-year-old West Wendover High School student Micaela Costanzo, a popular student and track star, was brutally murdered and buried in a shallow grave in the desert outside of town.
After an extensive search by residents following Micaela's disappearance, schoolmate and longtime acquaintance Kody Cree Patten, then 18, was arrested and charged with her murder. Then, two months after Patten's arrest, a bombshell was dropped by Patten's attorney.
He said he had a taped confession from Patten's girlfriend, Toni Fratto, then 19. She, too, was arrested and charged with murder.
What later emerged were two conflicting stories about how Micaela died. Though both Patten and Fratto admitted they were present during the girl's death, each had a different account of who delivered the fatal blows and who set the wheels in motion for the crime.
Fratto was eventually sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Patten avoided a potential death penalty by taking a plea bargain. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"Dateline NBC" is revisiting the Mickey Costanzo murder in a two-hour program airing Friday at 8 p.m. on KSL, Ch. 5. Dateline reporter Keith Morrison interviewed many of the major players, including Costanzo's family, Fratto from her jail cell, and the attorney for Patten. Neither Kody Patten nor his father agreed to an interview.
"It's just a difficult story because the victim was so well-liked and so sweet and didn't seem to have an enemy in the world. And so the questions all revolve around why." Morrison said.
Patten's attorney, John Ohlson, said even he didn't understand the reasons why Patten and Fratto did what they did.
"There's some reasons given, but they don't add up to this kind of reaction," he said. "They're all out of proportion."
"A terrible crime that didn't seem to have a logical reason at all, didn't have a reason that even approached logic," Morrison added.
Likewise, there were also questions about what happened in the desert where Micaela was killed. Patten said he shoved Micaela to the ground, causing her to hit her head on a rock and go into a seizure, followed by Fratto hitting her on the head with a shovel. Fratto's attorneys say their client then sat on Micaela's legs while Patten slashed her throat. Patten, however, has denied being the one who cut Micaela's throat, maintaining that Fratto did that.
"I don't know who did," Ohlson said. "There are conflicting stories about who did that. I don't think I'm ever going to know. And I don't think it really matters. I think (Micaela) might have received lethal blows before that happened."
Something that was never presented in court were the diaries of Toni Fratto. Ohlson, who had a copy of them, said the diaries showed Fratto's intense dislike of Micaela.
"It was pretty clear this was a young woman who did not like Mickey Costanzo," said Morrison, who was allowed to read Fratto's diaries. "It was clear that she was jealous of Mickey, and worried her boyfriend would find Mickey a better companion. She was a very insecure young woman. … She was overflowing in self-doubt."
But whether that is proof that she wanted to kill Micaela is up for debate.
Morrison said one of the most interesting interviews he conducted for his "Dateline" story was with Fratto from her jail cell, before she was transferred to prison. Fratto has claimed she was abused by Patten and pressured by him into doing the things that she did.
Ohlson, who was brought into the case because of the possibility of the death penalty, has not had any contact with Patten since he was sentenced in August. The life without parole sentence was something he said he fully expected.Comment on this story
There are no attorneys in Elko qualified to handle death penalty cases, and Ohlson believed there were no attorneys outside of Reno and Las Vegas in Nevada allowed to handle such cases.
"I've always believed that my clients deserved my objective best without personal involvement and without sentiment … and that's what I try to give them," Ohlson said. "It doesn't mean that I'm not a human being. And there are cases that stick with me, one of them almost made me quit practicing law.
"And I'm not going to forget this one soon."