The Murder of Micaela Costanzo

Two Killers Tell Conflicting Tales in the Death of a Popular Teen

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

Micaela Costanzo Goes Missing

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 picked her up from school but on this day, her sister was out of town and Mickey had planned to walk 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 pal 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.

A Gruesome Discovery at the Gravel Pits

Many people organized search parties and began combing the vast desert surrounding the town, including an area known as 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'd 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'd been brought unwillingly to the location where she was murdered. Investigators turned to the school's surveillance cameras for more clues.

Person of Interest

When investigators found calls and text messages to Patten on Mickey's phone records at the time she disappeared, he became a person of interest in the case. In addition, school surveillance video showed Mickey and Patten in the hallway leading to the exit where she disappeared minutes later.

In his first interview, Patten told police he'd last seen 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. They stayed friends as they got older but socially, they went their separate ways. Patten became involved with Toni Fratto, a devout Mormon who, like Mickey, was popular at school.

Fratto was dedicated to Patten and wanted to help the volatile teen reach his goal of joining the Marines. After dating a while, Patten and Fratto decided that they wanted to get married. Patten even joined the Mormon faith so that the couple could marry in the temple.

Patten 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 for their daughter, whom they knew was in love with Patten. They were also worried that Fratto might move out to be with Patten. In the end, they agreed to let him move into their home, where they could keep an eye on their daughter's fiancé. The senior Fratto's relationship with Patten improved and soon they considered him part of the family.

Jealousy and Manipulation

Toni Fratto was insecure about her relationship with Patten, 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, he would leave her for his childhood friend.

Patten began to use Fratto's jealousy as a perverse form of entertainment. He 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 recalled that Mickey told her she disliked the drama, that she had a boyfriend, and that she wasn't interested in Patten. But the taunts continued and Fratto became convinced that Mickey would ruin her relationship with Patten.

The First Confession

Once Patten was established as 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 told police that he and Mickey had gone for a drive to the gravel pit after school. They began arguing. He said she told him to break off his engagement with Fratto and start dating her instead—which he refused to do. The argument turned physical. When Mickey began to hit him in his chest, he shoved her back. She fell, hit her head, and went into convulsions. Not knowing what to do, he Patten tried to knock her out by hitting her in the head with a shovel. Patten said she was still making sounds, so he 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 a death sentence. He hired attorney John Ohlson, who had a reputation for keeping killers off of 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." That meant Mickey was in an SUV that Patten had borrowed and he was on his way to pick Fratto up. The three went to the gravel pits. Mickey and Patten got out of the car. Mickey began yelling at Patten 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. By the time 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 subsequently booked, charged with murder, and held without bail.

Plea Deals

Both Patten and Fratto were offered plea deals. Patten agreed at first but 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 differed from the one she'd given Patten's attorney. 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." When they got to the gravel pits, he ordered Fratto to stand guard.

Patten 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.

While 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 slit her throat with a knife.

In April 2012, Fratto, 19, pled 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 sent to the Florence McClure Women's Correctional Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Patten Gives Another Version of Events

In a meeting about a plea deal, Patten later gave another version of what happened the day Mickey died. 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 recommended that he 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. As part of the presentence report, Patten wrote a letter to the judge denying that he had killed Mickey. He laid the blame solely on Fratto, saying that she slit Mickey's throat. 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." As of August 2018, Patten was incarcerated in Ely State Prison in White Pine County, Nevada.

One Final Version?

With the two killers locked away from one another, 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.