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Reno attorney, West Wendover murder to be featured on this week’s Dateline



This Friday, Jan. 4, Dateline NBC will air a two-hour special on the grim case involving three teenagers from West Wendover, Nev. In addition to interviews with pertinent individuals from the area involved in the case, the show features Reno attorney John Ohlson, primary defendant Kody Patten’s attorney.

Elko County District Court appointed Ohlson to the case because of his experience handling death penalty cases. Ohlson has practiced criminal defense law since 1972.

Dateline producer Robert Dean heard about the case while tending to family business in Salt Lake City. He visited Salt Lake in August, during the time of Patten’s sentencing. After learning more details about the murder, he quickly began to put together the program for Dateline.

“This is a very sad story with an incredible amount of dimension and depth,” Dean said. “After conducting several interviews, we determined the story couldn’t be told in one hour. The details warranted a two-hour show.”

Dean and crew spent many hours poring over official records and interviewing numerous people in Wendover, Elko and Reno. In late September, Dean and Dateline correspondent Keith Morrison met with Ohlson in Reno.

“I was appointed by the Elko County District Court to defend Kody Patten because they don’t have anyone on their roster qualified to handle a death penalty case,” said Ohlson. “My appointment ended up being instrumental in the prosecution of the second teenager involved in the case, Toni Fratto. She admitted her guilt to me on tape, and I turned her in to authorities.”

On March 3, 2011,  Kody Patten and his girlfriend Toni Fratto took 16-year-old Michaela “Mickey” Constanzo into the desert near the gambling border town of West Wendover and killed her. All three were students at Wendover High School and childhood acquaintances.

Constanzo was brutally beaten and stabbed, her throat was slashed and she was finally buried in a shallow grave in the desert. Afterward, Patten and Fratto returned to Wendover, stopping at a local fast food restaurant for drinks.

Constanzo’s disappearance caused a massive search, with investigators from Reno and the FBI participating. Both Patten and Fratto were interviewed and denied any knowledge of Constanzo’s whereabouts. A few days later investigators found her body and interviewed Patten again. Patten finally admitted killing the girl, but insisted he had acted alone.

Later, Fratto came forward to Ohlson and admitted her involvement in Constanzo’s death. Ohlson turned her in to authorities, and the prosecution began against both teenagers. The State sought the death penalty against both.

Ultimately both defendants pled guilty to murder in Constanzo’s death. Their guilty pleas spared them the death penalty. They are now serving life sentences in Nevada prisons. Neither Patten nor Fratto has ever given a reason for the killing. The motive for the murder remains a mystery.

Originally planned for a one hour segment, fascination with the case expanded the Dateline program to a two-hour special which will air on NBC Friday, Jan. 4, at 9 p.m. local time.

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