Prosecutors opened a punishment hearing for a Baytown man who pleaded guilty to stabbing his 16-year-old girlfriend to death by promising jurors it would be among the most chilling cases ever heard in Galveston County.
“The biggest question at the end will be, ‘why did he do this?’” Chief Assistant District Attorney Matt Shawhan said. “At the end of the day, I think your answer, like mine, will be that it’s pure evil.”
Defense attorneys, meanwhile, spent Tuesday on the girlfriend’s previous romantic relationships with older men and argued Jesse Christian Dobbs, 23, acted in fear and passion in November 2016 when he stabbed Kirsten Nicole Fritch more than 60 times and dumped her body in deep brush by a Texas City drainage ditch.
The hearing Tuesday was not to determine guilt, but punishment for Dobbs, who pleaded guilty in September and whose attorneys are arguing acted in sudden passion. A determination of sudden passion could reduce the severity of Dobbs’ sentence.
Prosecutors plan to call more than 35 witnesses in the proceeding that could last through the week, Shawhan said.
If the jury finds Dobbs acted in sudden passion, the punishment range is two to 20 years in prison, instead of the normal five to 99 years for a murder conviction, defense attorneys said.
But prosecutors Tuesday did their best to paint Dobbs as a repeat criminal offender who had killed several people and had committed previous sexual crimes against minors.
Cynthia Morris, 37, and her daughter Breanna Pavlicek, 13, were found shot to death in their Baytown home Nov. 8, 2016. Fritch and the family’s white PT Cruiser were missing.
But Dobbs hasn’t been charged in connection with those deaths, defense attorneys noted.
“It’s been two years and nothing has happened in Baytown,” attorney Lynette Briggs said.
Charges are filed only when there is sufficient evidence of probable cause, officials with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office said.
Dobbs was a witness, not the killer, in the deaths of Morris and Pavlicek, defense attorneys said.
Dobbs had been sitting in his car outside the Baytown house when he heard two gunshots and then Fritch came out and the two of them drove off, Briggs said.
Fritch, meanwhile, had previously dated and kept men in the house who were older than 18, including one man her family called police about, attorney Jyll Rekoff said.
Rekoff on Tuesday questioned Fritch’s grandmother, Barbara DeRamus, about her granddaughter’s behavior leading up to her death.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, focused on the grisly details after DeRamus called Baytown police when her daughter didn’t show up for work.
DeRamus went to Morris’ rented home Nov. 8 and called police when she noticed the car was missing, she testified.
Baytown police entered the unlocked house and found Morris dead on her bed and Pavlicek dead nearby, officer Cory Moseray testified.
Investigators launched a statewide Amber Alert for Fritch, and within hours authorities had tracked the car to Shenanigans Sports Bar in the 800 block of 34th Street in Texas City.
Dobbs was arrested inside the bar that night on a resisting arrest charge.
More than 36 hours later, on Nov. 10, Texas EquuSearch volunteers found Fritch’s body in brush about 20 feet deep near a drainage ditch, Alvin Tips, a volunteer with the group, testified Tuesday.
“We were coming toward a clearing, but it was so dense, we came within 6 or 8 feet of the body,” Tips said.
Prosecutors showed the jury pictures of the victims taken shortly after their bodies had been found.
The medical examiner’s office told a grand jury in February 2017 that Fritch had been stabbed more than 60 times.
“You’ll see in the picture how horrible the last minutes of her life must have been,” Shawhan told the jury Tuesday. “I don’t envy you having to see this, but I need you to understand how brutal this man is.”