The Murder of Micaela Costanzo

The two convicted killers told different stories about her death

Close Up Of Gavel And Sound Block
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Micaela Costanzo, 16, was a good kid. She was pretty and popular, did well in school, and enjoyed being on the high school basketball team and a local track star. She was close to her mother and sisters and texted them regularly, especially if she had a change in schedule.

Missing

On March 3, 2011, when Micaela—or Mickey, as everyone called her—didn't text her mother after school or answer her cell phone, her mother knew something was terribly wrong. Mickey was last seen around 5 p.m. leaving through the back doors of West Wendover High School in West Wendover, Nevada. Normally her sister would pick her up from school, but on this day her sister was out of town and Mickey planned on walking home.

When she didn't arrive, her mother began calling her friends and finally the police, who immediately began investigating the teen's disappearance. They interviewed her classmates and friends, including her childhood friend Kody Patten, who gave police the same story as her other friends: The last time he saw Mickey, he said, was outside the school around 5 p.m.

The Gravel Pits

Many people organized search parties and began combing the vast desert surrounding the town, including an area called the gravel pits. Two days later, a searcher noticed fresh tire tracks leading to what looked like fresh blood and a suspicious mound covered by sagebrush. Investigators uncovered Mickey's body. She had been beaten and stabbed repeatedly on her face and neck.

A plastic tie was found around one of Mickey's arms. The evidence indicated to police that she had been brought unwillingly to the location, where she was murdered. They turned to the school's surveillance cameras for more clues.

Person of Interest

Patten became a person of interest when investigators found calls and text messages to him on Mickey's phone records at the time she disappeared. Also, school surveillance video showed Mickey and Patten in the hallway leading to the entrance where she disappeared minutes later.

In his first interview, Patten told police he last saw Mickey with her boyfriend at the front of the school. Everyone else said she was at the back of the building.

The High School Couple

Mickey Costanzo and Kody Patten had known each other since they were kids. As they got older they remained friends, but socially they went their separate ways.

Patten became involved with Toni Fratto, a devout Mormon who, like Mickey, was popular at school. Patten and Fratto dated 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-foot-8 with a quick temper, at home, and at school. After a bad fight with his father, he moved into Fratto's house.

Fratto's parents were conflicted about having Patten stay there. Their primary concern was their daughter, who they knew was in love with Patten. They were also concerned that Fratto might move out to be with Patten, so they agreed to let him move into their home, where they could keep an eye on their daughter's fiancé. Their relationship with Patten improved and soon they considered him part of the family.

Fratto was insecure about the relationship and even more so about Patten's friendship with Mickey. Fratto kept a diary and wrote about her insecurities. She believed Patten loved Mickey and one day 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 Mickey.

According to Mickey's family, for months Fratto verbally insulted Mickey. Mickey's sister said Mickey told her she disliked the drama, that she had a boyfriend and wasn't interested in Patten. But the insults continued and Fratto was convinced that Mickey would ruin her relationship.

The First Confession

With Patten the primary person of interest in the case, the police asked him to come in for an interview. It didn't take long for Patten to break down. Encouraged by his father, he confessed to his involvement in Mickey's death.

Patten said he and Mickey went for a drive to the gravel pit after school. They began arguing when she told him to break off his engagement with Fratto and start dating her instead, which he refused to do.

The argument became physical when Mickey began to hit him in his chest and he shoved her back. She fell, hit her head, and went into convulsions. Not knowing what to do, 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 and the possibility of a death sentence. He hired attorney John Ohlson, who had the reputation for keeping killers off death row.

Fratto's Reaction

Devastated 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 in her pajamas and accompanied by Patten's father, went to Ohlson's office and tape-recorded an entirely different version of the circumstances of Mickey's murder.

Fratto said that after school she received a text from Patten with the words "I've got her," meaning Mickey was in an SUV that Patten had borrowed and he was on his way to get Fratto. The three went to the gravel pits, where Mickey and Patten got out of the car and Mickey yelled at him and pushed him. Fratto said she diverted her eyes but heard a loud thud and got out of the SUV to see what had happened.

She said Mickey was lying on the ground, not moving. Patten began to dig a grave and when he was finished, Mickey was semiconscious. They kicked, punched, and hit her with the shovel. When she stopped moving, they placed her in the grave and took turns slitting her throat. Fratto also admitted to sitting on Mickey's legs to hold her down during the attack.

Since Patten was his client, not Fratto, there was no attorney-client privilege and Ohlson immediately turned the tape over to the police. Toni Fratto, who had not even been a suspect, was booked, charged with murder, and held without bail.

Plea Deals

Both 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 Mickey and when she got into the SUV, she saw Mickey stuffed in the back, scared, with her hands up to her face. Patten sent Fratto a text saying "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 Mickey, but she refused. Patten began punching Mickey and told Fratto to hit her with the shovel. Fratto hit Mickey in the shoulder and Patten hit her in the head.

Lying on the ground, Fratto held down Mickey's legs. At some point, Mickey looked up at Patten and asked if she was still alive and if she could go home. Patten then slit her throat with a knife.

In April 2012, Fratto, 19, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder with a deadly weapon in the death of Micaela Costanzo and was sentenced to life behind bars with the possibility of parole in 18 years. As of August 2018, she was in Florence McClure Women's Correctional Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Another Version

Patten later gave another version of what happened that deadly day in a meeting about a plea deal. He said Fratto had confronted Mickey in school that day and called her a slut. Patten suggested that Fratto and Mickey meet and talk it out. Fratto said she wanted to fight it out and Mickey had 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 May 2012, Patten agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder to avoid the death penalty in the death of Micaela Costanzo and was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole. As of August 2018, he was in Ely State Prison in White Pine County, Nevada.

As part of the presentence report, Patten wrote a letter to the judge denying that he had killed Mickey. He put the blame solely on Fratto, saying that she slit Mickey's throat. But the judge didn't buy it. He sentenced Patten to life, telling him, "Your blood runs cold, Mr. Patten. There shall be no possibility of parole."

One More Version

With the two killers locked away from each other, Fratto had time to reconsider her situation. 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 Mickey. She feared for her life after she saw him beat Mickey, she said and had no choice but to go along with what he wanted.