Micaela Costanzo, 16, was a good kid. She was pretty, popular, did well in school, enjoyed being on the high school's basketball team and had earned the title of local track star. She was also very close to her mother and sisters and would text to them regularly, especially if she had a change in her schedule.
MissingOn March 3, 2011, when Micaela, or Mickey as everyone called her, did not text her mother after school and did not answer her cellphone, her mother knew something was terribly wrong and her daughter was in trouble.
Micaela was last seen at around 5 p.m. leaving through the back doors of West Wendover High School in West Wendover, Nevada. Normally Micaela's sister would pick her up from up from school, but on the day that she went missing her sister was out of town and Micaela planned on walking home.
When she didn't come home her mother began calling all of her friends and she contacted the police.
The police immediately began investigating the teen's disappearance and interviewed Micaela's classmates and friends, including her childhood friend Kody Cree Patten. He gave the police the same story her other friends told- the last time he saw Micaela was outside the school at around 5 p.m.
The Gravel PitsMany in West Wendover joined organized search parties and began searching the vast desert surrounding the town and an area there called the gravel pits.
On Saturday, March 5, 2011, one of the searchers noticed fresh tire tracks, which led to what looked like fresh blood and a suspicious mound covered by sagebrush. It was there that investigators uncovered the body of Micaela who had been beaten and stabbed and slashed repeatedly on her face and neck.
Among the evidence was a plastic tie grip around one of Micaela's arms. For police, the evidence found indicated that she had been kidnapped and brought unwillingly to the location where she was murdered. They turned to the school's surveillance cameras for more clues.
Person of InterestKody Patten had become a person of interest when calls and text messages found on Micaela's phone records at the time that she disappeared were made to Patten. Also, video surveillance at the school showed Michaela and Patten in the same hallway, leading to the same back entrance of the school minutes before she disappeared.
When interviewed the first time, Patten told police that he last saw Micaela with her boyfriend at the front of the school. Everyone else interviewed said she was at the back of the school.
The High School CoupleMicaela Costanzo and Patten had known each other since they were kids. As they got older their friendship remained, but socially they went their separate ways.
Patten became involved with Toni Fratto who was a devout Mormon and like Micaela, popular at school. Patten and Fratto dated each other exclusively and decided that they wanted to get married. He joined the Mormon faith so that the couple could marry in the temple.
Fratto was dedicated to Patten and wanted to help the volatile teen reach his goal of joining the Marines. He was 6' 8" and headstrong with a quick temper both at home and at school. After a bad fight with his father he moved out and went to Fratto's house.
Fratto's parents were conflicted with having Patten stay at their house. Their primary concern was with their daughter Toni, who they knew was in love with Patten. They were also concerned that Fratto might move out to be with Patten, so they decided it would be better to let him move in their home, where they could keep a close eye on their daughter's fiancé. Their relationship with Patten developed and soon they thought of him as part of the family.
Fratto was a very insecure teen, especially about her relationship with Patten and even more so about his friendship with Micaela Costanzo. She kept a diary and wrote about her insecurities, believing that Patten loved Micaela and one day he would leave her for his childhood friend.
Patten began to use Fratto's jealousy as a form of entertainment and would create scenes that he knew she would react to, including talking and texting with Micaela.
According to Micaela's family, for months Fratto verbally insulted Micaela at school and called her names. Micaela's sister said Micaela told her how she disliked the drama, and she had a boyfriend and was not interested in Patten in that way. But the insults continued and Fratto had it in her mind that Micaela was going to ruin her relationship.
The First ConfessionWith Patten being the primary person of interest in the case, the police asked him to come in for an interview. It did not take long for Patten to break down, and encouraged by his father, he gave the police a confession to his involvement with Micaela's death.
Patten confessed that he and Michaela went for a drive to the gravel pit after school. They began arguing when Michael told him to break off his engagement with Fratto, and start dating her instead, which he refused to do.
The argument became physical when Micaela began to hit him in his chest and he shoved her back. She fell, hit her head, and then began to go into convulsions. At that point he didn't know what to do, so he hit her in the head with a shovel to try to knock her out. She was making sounds, so Patten then slashed her throat to get her to stop. Realizing she was dead he buried her in a shallow grave and tried to burn her personal belongings.
Patten was arrested and charged with first-degree murder with the possibility of receiving a death sentence. He then hired attorney John Olson, who had the reputation for keeping killers off death row.
Fratto's ReactionDevistated by Patten's arrest, Fratto visited, wrote and called him, telling him that she missed him and would always stand by him.
Then in April 2011, while her parents were out of town, Fratto, dressed only in her pajamas and accompanied by Patten's father, went to John Olson's office and tape recorded an entirely different version of the events that took place during the murder of Micaela Costanzo.
Fratto said that after school she received a text from Patten with the words "I've got her" meaning Micaela was in the SUV that Patten had borrowed and that he was on his way to get Fratto. Together, the three went out to the gravel pits and then Micaela and Patten got out of the car and Micaela started yelling at him and then she pushed him. Fratto said at this point she diverted her eyes, but then heard a loud thud and got out of the SUV to see what was going on.
She said Micaela was lying on the ground, not moving. Patten began to dig a grave and when he was finished, Micaela was semiconscious, and the two of them kicked, punched and hit her with the shovel. When she stopped moving, they placed her body into the grave and took turns slitting her throat. Fratto also admitted to sitting on Micaela's legs to hold her down during the attack.
Since Patten was his client and not Fratto, there was no attorney-client privilege and Olsen immediately turned the tape over to the police.
Toni Fratto, who had not even been a suspect, was booked, held without bail, and charged with murder.
Plea DealsBoth Patten and Fratto were offered plea deals. At first Patten agreed, and then changed his mind. Fratto agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder and testify against the man who she promised to stand by forever.
The confession Fratto gave to the police was another version of what happened the day at the gravel pits.
This time she said Patten was mad at Micaela and when she got into the SUV, she saw Micaela stuffed in the back, scared, with her hands up to her face. Patten sent Fratto a text "we have to kill her" and when they got to the gravel pits he ordered Fratto to stand guard.
He then dug the grave and told Fratto to hit Micaela, but she refused. Patten began punching Micaela and told Fratto to hit her with the shovel. Fratto and Patten then hit Micaela with the shovel. Fratto hit her in the shoulder and Patten hit her in the head.
Lying on the ground, Fratto held down Micaela's legs. At some point Micaela looked up at Patten and asked if she was still alive and could she go home. Patten then slit her neck with a knife.
In April 2012, Fratto, 19, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to life behind bars with the possibility of parole in 18 years.
One More VersionThere was another partial version of what happened on that deadly day given by Patten, when he agreed to an earlier plea deal.
Patten said that Fratto had confronted Micaela in school that day and called her a slut. Patten told her to knock it off, and suggested that Fratto and Micaela meet and talk it out. Fratto said she wanted to fight it out and Micaela agreed.
That was as far as Patten got with this version of the story. He stopped after his attorney told him to turn down the plea deal.
In September 2012, Patten agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder in order to avoid the death penalty.
As part of the pre-sentence report, Patten wrote a letter to the judge and in it denied that he killed Micaela. He put the blame solely on Fratto, saying that she slit her throat. But the judge did not buy it. He sentenced Patten to life and told him, "Your blood runs cold, Mr. Patten. There shall be no possibility of parole."
Abused and ScaredWith the two killers locked away from each other, Fratto had time to reconsider her situatuin. She offered one more version of the deadly story. In an interview with Dateline NBC’s Keith Morrison, she said that she had been abused and controlled by Patten during most of their relationship and that he forced her to participate in murdering Micaela. She feared for her life after she saw him beat Micaela and had no choice, but to along with what he wanted.
Police reported that Patten had been involved with an older woman right before Micaela was murdered. It was the woman who loaned him the SUV that he drove out to the gravel pits in on that day. Some have speculated that Fratto may have suspected Patten's infidelity, but thought the other woman was Micaela.