A college student's murder serves as a cautionary tale, prosecutor says: "Love can blind us"

When investigators found the body of Ally Kostial, a student at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, in July 2019 near Sardis Lake, an abandoned fishing camp not far from campus, they wondered why someone would so brutally take the life of the 21-year-old.

"When you got there … what did you find?" "CBS Saturday Morning" co-host Michelle Miller asked Lafayette County investigator Jarrett Bundren.

"A white female laying on the ground … with multiple gun shots wounds to her back," Bundren replied. "I have not worked a murder where somebody has been shot that many times."

Ally, originally from St. Louis, Missouri, and studying business and marketing, was shot at least nine times. Investigators needed answers and they found them at Ally's apartment. Her cell phone was gone, but they were able to track her life before her death through her Apple Watch.

"And even though her phone was not there … some of those messages still synced to that watch," said Mickey Mallette, Lafayette County assistant district attorney.

The stored text messages led Lafayette County sheriff's deputies to fellow student Brandon Theesfeld. He was arrested three days after Kostial was found.

"The hardest thing is to go back and read her messages," says Lafayette County district attorney Ben Creekmore.

Theesfeld's attorney Tony Farese calls the case "a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions."

"In your mind, the motive for murder was to?" Miller asked prosecutor Ben Creekmore. "Get rid of a problem," he replied.

ALLY KOSTIAL'S FINAL HOURS

WREG NEWS REPORT JULY 21, 2019: "It's unclear why a 21-year-old ... student would be in that area some 30 miles away from campus ... Authorities have released limited details on the case but did say they suspect foul play."

Though it's been years since Cindy and Keith Kostial's daughter Ally was found murdered on July 20, 2019, it still doesn't seem real to them.

Keith Kostial: It does seem like she's still away at school.

Cindy Kostial: (in tears) And I still don't believe it, and here we are ... Still in denial.

The Kostials had visited Ally at her apartment a few days before.

Cindy Kostial: She wanted us to stay an extra day, she was having so much fun. She wanted me to cook her ... home cooked meals. ... We went shopping. She loves a beach theme, so we just bought a bunch of new décor, you know.

Cindy and Keith had returned home to St. Louis when Cindy spoke with Ally on the phone just hours before she died.

Cindy Kostial: It was like seven o'clock at night ... She had just woken up from a nap because she had a test actually on that day. ... I said, "What are you going to do tonight?" She said, "I'm going to go out with some friends."

Twenty-four hours later, Lafayette County Sheriff's Department investigator Jarrett Bundren was hoping clues from Ally's Apple Watch might lead to the first break in the case.

Investigator Jarrett Bundren: We just started from there.

Michelle Miller: What was she to you?

Maddy Norris: She was like my sister.

Like so many who knew and loved Ally, Maddy Norris, one of her best friends in high school, was trying to make sense of what had happened.

Maddy Norris: I just was like in shock.

The two were inseparable.

Maddy Norris [in tears]: It was like, If Ally was there, Maddy was there. ... She was like my other half. ... We had like a bunch of adventures together. ... Girl things, watching chick flicks, watching "Legally Blonde" and driving in her convertible.

When it came time to go prom dress shopping …

Maddy Norris: She just tried on this red dress. And just like fell in love. And she called her mom. It's like, I'm going to have to get this dress (laughs).

Michelle Miller: Did she have a boyfriend in high school?

Cindy Kostial: She had boys she had like crushes on, but nothing ever serious.

Maddy Norris: She didn't find a date for prom, so I asked her to be my prom date.

After graduation, Ally was thrilled to be heading to a college steeped in tradition, history and football: The University of Mississippi.

Maddy Norris: She liked ... "the preppy life." ... Very like girly, like pearls.

Ally arrived in the fall of 2016. But the marketing business major may have had something more on her mind.

Cindy Kostial: She wanted to meet a southern boy and get married and have children one day, and she thought that would be a perfect setting for her to meet her companion for life.

Morgan Hull: By junior year we were thick as thieves, like best friends.

Morgan Hull went to college with Ally.

Morgan Hull: She was always like rearranging and redecorating her room too, which was always so funny to find little Ally like moving all the furniture around by herself (laughs).

Elizabeth Brock: We were both from St. Louis.

Elizabeth Brock met Ally at a campus party and became fast friends.

Elizabeth Brock: So, then we're like, oh my God, how did we like not meet until now?

Elizabeth says Ally was fascinated by sunsets.

Elizabeth Brock: She had a sunset Instagram account where she'd post pictures that she took of sunsets.

As for dating at college, Cindy recalled Ally saying she'd met someone during her freshman year.

Cindy Kostial: She said, "I met this boy, he's from Texas." She, for whatever reason, loves the state of Texas. And she was real excited to invite him ... to a sorority dance. ... That's the boy she really liked.

Michelle Miller: What did she first say about him?

Maddy Norris: That she found a guy that was cute ... that she was starting to like have a crush on.

That "crush" would turn out to be fellow student Brandon Theesfeld from Fort Worth.

Michelle Miller: Was she really excited about him?

Maddy Norris: Yes. ... like head over heels.

Maddy Norris: I think she took him to most of her date parties that her sorority had.

So, when Maddy went down to Oxford to visit, she was looking forward to meeting the new man in Ally's life. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned.

Maddy Norris: I never met him.

Michelle Miller: You never met him because he never came around?

Maddy Norris: Never came around.

Michelle Miller: How did she feel about that?

Maddy Norris: I mean, it hurt her. ... You have like your best friend from high school coming down to visit you and your crush ... is MIA.

Maddy was concerned that there was something about her friend's relationship that wasn't quite right. But otherwise, Ally seemed to be thriving at college.

Maddy Norris: She loved it. She could not get enough of it. ... She finally achieves the goal of going there, and she just was living her life.

Three years later, her life was cut short. Now, with the clock ticking on finding her killer, Ally's Apple Watch proved invaluable to investigators.

Michelle Miller: What did the watch tell you?

Investigator Jarrett Bundren: The watch was telling me she was having very lengthy text message conversation with Brandon.

Brandon Theesfeld — Ally's freshman year crush. It seemed the two were planning to see each other that very night.

BRANDON THEESFELD TEXT | JULY 19, 2019, 3:50 P.M.: are you gonna be home today cause i could visit

ALLY'S COLLEGE CRUSH

When investigators discovered that Ally's last text messages were with Brandon Theesfeld, they wanted to talk to him — and soon.

Investigator Jarrett Bundren:We ... called ... late Saturday, early Sunday morning to come in and give an interview.

Investigators also tried tracking Ally's phone on Saturday, but it only pinged once in Oxford before the signal died. Theesfeld responded but made excuses about why he couldn't meet all weekend. Finally…

Jarrett Bundren: He ... Said that he would be there at 8:30 Monday morning.

Michelle Miller: And 8:30 Monday morning came?

Jarrett Bundren: No Brandon.

Lafayette County Assistant District Attorney Mickey Mallette says that's when the decision was made to start tracking his phone.

Mickey Mallette: When they do that mid-morning on a real-time-situation, they can see where he is.

Michelle Miller: What did you find out?

Jarrett Bundren: That he was on Interstate 55 headed north toward Memphis.

Mickey Mallette: From here to go to where he lives in Texas, that's probably the most common way to go. ... They can see his location moving away from Oxford.

District Attorney Ben Creekmore says with Theesfeld appearing to be on the run, investigators got an affidavit of arrest for murder and immediately sent out a bulletin.

Ben Creekmore: When we saw that his truck was leaving Oxford, there was a BOLO for his tag.

Michelle Miller: A BOLO?

Ben Creekmore: "Be on the lookout."

It didn't take long for the Memphis fugitive task force to spot Theesfeld.

Jarrett Bundren: About an hour and a half, two hours later ... they caught him at the gas station.

Bundren says Theesfeld was sitting at the pumps in his pickup truck, which had easy-to-spot license plates.

Michelle Miller: The tag on the plates?

Investigator Jarrett Bundren: Says "Take it"

Michelle Miller: Hard to miss.

Jarrett Bundren:Very hard to miss.

A dashcam captured Theesfeld being taken into custody. Police immediately alerted investigators in Mississippi about what they'd found in the truck and on his clothing.

Ben Creekmore: He had a 40-caliber gun consistent with the caliber of the shell casings that were found on the scene. ... And he had blood on him.

Bundren headed north to pick him up.

Jarrett Bundren: He was calm. You know, read him his rights. ... He invoked his rights, wanted his attorney. He was picked up in Tennessee. We asked him if he would sign a waiver of extradition, come back to Mississippi. ... And he signed it and we brought him back.

With Theesfeld in custody, investigators began retracing his steps the weekend of Ally's murder. They learned that he had been popping up all over Oxford, starting on Saturday.

Jarrett Bundren: He stayed with some friends. They said it was very casual. They went bowling, normal stuff.

But there was nothing normal about what he brought to a friend's house on Sunday.

Jarrett Bundren: Said he came into his house carrying a gun … and unloaded the gun in the house. ... He brought in a six pack of beer and said that they sat up for a while. ... When he got up the next morning, he was gone.

While Theesfeld wasn't talking to investigators – he would eventually talk to an attorney, Tony Farese, hired by his family.

Tony Farese: He had a life full of promise ... received lots of love in a good Christian family.

Farese learned Theesfeld was a doctor's son. He seemed to have enjoyed a typical Texas childhood.

Tony Farese: He liked the outdoors ... hunting ... fishing. ... He was a soccer player. ... He had never been in a fight in school. ... No history of violence.

It wasn't long after arriving in Oxford that Theesfeld met Ally.

Tony Farese: He met her at a ... local bar. They dated casually during their freshman year. ... I think she was more enthralled with Brandon than Brandon was with her, quite candidly.

According to Farese, their relationship became complicated when they were sophomores.

Michelle Miller: Did he actually block her from his phone?

Tony Farese: Yes. ... She had texted him so much ... late at night when she's out drinking and partying, and it got to the point where he did block her phone. Yes.

But something shifted by their junior year, and the two got back in touch.

Tony Farese: I think she saw this ... as a mutual romantic endeavor, and Brandon did not see it that way.

Which would explain one thing.

Michelle Miller: So, when did you first meet him?

Elizabeth Brock: I never met him.

Ally's closest friends didn't know Theesfeld at all. Morgan Hull says she'd only met him one time.

Morgan Hull: It's so odd that we were her best friends, and we still really didn't even know him that well. Like when this happened, we didn't even know his last name.

But in August of 2019, Theesfeld's name was front page news. That's when the case was presented to a grand jury. The evidence included pictures of the gun and shell casings, and a letter investigators recovered during a search of his apartment apparently written by Theesfeld the weekend Ally was found dead. Prosecutors say it's a confession.

Ben Creekmore: The letter ... that he's written to his mom and dad ... concerned about what he's done.

Theesfeld wrote that he'd always had "terrible thoughts" and "this is the end for me … I'm either going to prison or going to die". He also wrote "I know I'm going to get caught".

Michelle Miller: He confessed?

Mickey Mallette: I think he did. He didn't say he committed the murder.

Ben Creekmore: You could argue that it was a confession, an apology to his mom and dad —

Mickey Mallette: — was an apology.

Tony Farese says he spoke to Theesfeld about the letter and says it was also something more: a suicide note.

Tony Farese: He writes a goodbye note to his family, tells them that he loves them, apologizes for what he's done. ... I am told by Brandon that he has the gun to his head and then passes out.

The grand jury handed down their indictment.

Jake Thompson: Capital one murder.

At the time Jake Thompson was a reporter for the local paper, the Oxford Eagle. He says Theesfeld faced the death penalty for kidnapping and murdering Ally.

Jake Thompson: It rocks Oxford to its core because, you know, Oxford takes in these people, they're one of their own for four years, five years, however long you're here. ... And so, it was it was tough for both the academic and the university and the citizens of Oxford.

In late September, Theesfeld appeared in court to enter a plea: not guilty.

Jake Thompson: The big question, you know, of course ... why did it happen? ... And that was something that we were all initially trying to figure out.

Investigators hoped to find some answers in hundreds of text messages between Ally and Theesfeld. And what they discovered included some life-changing news.

Mickey Mallette: The first messages about it started in early April.

BRANDON THEESFELD TEXT: Don't share this with anyone.

A COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIP

Cindy Kostial: We're stuck … can't move forward … days are just rough.

Michelle Miller: When you think about her not being here … That makes you feel what?

Maddy Norris: Sad and broken.

As Ally's friends and family waited for Brandon Theesfeld to go to trial for her murder, prosecutors were building their case. They were hoping text messages between the two could provide insight about what may have led to her death.

Ben Creekmore: We know … more about what he may have been thinking and we know more about what she may have been thinking.

Michelle Miller: What was the relationship between these two?

Mickey Mallette: Well, that might be different depending on who you ask. … I think it would be fair to say that she looked at it with a more serious eye over the entirety of the relationship.

Theesfeld's defense attorney Tony Farese.

Tony Farese: From Brandon's standpoint, it was a casual, sexual relationship.

Morgan Hull: They were never boyfriend and girlfriend. They didn't go on dates, like he didn't pick her up or take her out to dinner. None of that. But he would tell her he wasn't good enough for her and that's why they couldn't be together.

Morgan and Elizabeth say it was an odd relationship, carried out over texts.

Elizabeth Brock: He definitely manipulated her.

Elizabeth Brock: I think we were just more like upset with how if she would show us texts from him or tell us things he would say there were really unkind to her.

Michelle Miller: So, you knew she liked this boy.

A college student's murder serves as a cautionary tale, prosecutor says:

Cindy Kostial: Yeah, yeah.

Keith Kostial: But she never really had mentioned him, at least to me, over time, or that he was, you know, even in this scene at all.

Michelle Miller: Was there anything in her behavior that suggested things weren't normal?

Cindy Kostial: See, and that's the thing she's told me everything in life. But never discussed him.

Cindy and Keith say they have not read their daughter's text conversations uncovered by investigators.

Cindy Kostial: No, we haven't read any of it.

Michelle Miller: Will you?

Cindy Kostial: I don't know if I can.

In April 2019, just three months before her death, Ally was getting ready for spring semester finals. What her mom didn't know was Ally was focused on a different kind of test — a home pregnancy test.

Michelle Miller: When you learned about that. Was that something so out of line for Ally and her behavior?

Cindy Kostial: Big time, yeah.

On April 14, she texted Brandon Theesfeld a photo of an inconclusive home pregnancy test and this message:

ALLY KOSTIAL TEXT: "…Like it's a very faint blue line … but idk I guess I can wait and see if my period comes …"

That faint blue line is barely visible. Theesfeld's response:

BRANDON THEESFELD TEXT: "Well all right we will see, but if it is pregnant we are not keeping. We can get a pill."

Morgan Hull: She was definitely worried. She thought she might be pregnant.

In this text, Ally, it seems, was anxious and conflicted:

ALLY KOSTIAL TEXT: "I'm not saying what I am gonna do bc idk what's happenin… But even if you don't want to be involved like I am really pretty and sweet and I know I will meet a real man one day…."

It appeared Theesfeld did not see fatherhood in his immediate future.

BRANDON THEESFELD TEXT: "…. I'm serious – no kid at all it will ruin my life...."

Morgan Hull: She was trying to get into contact with Brandon about this and she had texted him and he would either just ignore her of do the thing where he would tell her, "OK, like I will come over tonight and we can talk about this" and then he would never show up.

Michelle Miller: So, she talked to you about this.

Elizabeth Brock: Yeah, she came to us right away.

Investigators would later learn after Brandon Theesfeld received news about that pregnancy test, he had been searching the internet for "mother wants kid father does not."

Tony Farese: Yes, he did suggest an abortion. … Initially, there was talk about that. He regrets that, but that did occur and that's memorialized in the text messages.

Michelle Miller: So, in your mind, if she was pregnant, she would have had the baby.

Maddy Norris: She would have given it the world, honestly.

Ally, despite the ambiguous test result, would text Theesfeld day and night. Many of her messages are long, revealing, and troubling, says forensic psychologist Kris Mohandie. He was not involved in the case. "48 Hours" asked him to read some of the text messages.

Dr. Kris Mohandie: These lengthy pretty much one-sided conversations that were initiated by Ally, you know, with very little in return from Brandon ... make this a very lopsided investment into this relationship.

This exchange begins on Monday, April 15, 2019, at 12:57 a.m., with Ally writing:

ALLY KOSTIAL TEXT: I LIVED it up this weekend and was drunk 24/7. I did that so my body might decide HAHHA no not today …"

Then at 2:37 a.m. she texts:

ALLY KOSTIAL TEXT: "I thought about it if you want to talk to me in person that would be better ..."

Theesfeld responds almost nine hours later:

BRANDON THEESFELD TEXT: "I can talk tomorrow. I'm busy today. I'm still going to have the decision of the pill."

Dr. Kris Mohandie: To me, there's several layers there.

Michelle Miller: Do you sense that at all, based on what you've read ... that he has any — desire to keep her on the sideline?

Dr. Kris Mohandie: It appears that he has no desire to keep her on the sideline ... from what I've seen in these communications. He's communicating just enough for a purpose to try to influence her into terminating the pregnancy, if indeed she is pregnant ... that seems to me to be his only investment in any of these communications.

Mohandie says Ally may have been trying to get Brandon Theesfeld's attention with texts about her drinking.

Michelle Miller [reading text to Kris Mohandie]: "In the past 48 hours, I've literally drank a full bottle of tequila, two bottles of champagne, seven beers, a glass of wine ..." I can't even imagine someone her size being able to consume that much alcohol.

Kris Mohandie: That's a lot of alcohol to consume for somebody of her size, and for many people, if not most people. My concern would be, you know, alcohol poisoning or an overdose from alcohol — which is why ... I raise the question — how much she's drinking. Or it's being exaggerated to show, "Hey —" to tell Brandon, "I'm self-destructive. Come to my rescue. You've gotta help me. I'm desperate."……

Michelle Miller: Do you believe Brandon believed she was pregnant?

Tony Farese: I know that Ali claimed to have been pregnant. So, the question is why would she claim to be pregnant if she were not pregnant. Hence, my conclusion is that she wanted a serious relationship with Brandon, which in her mind could have included marriage.

The text messages had created a digital map of a complicated relationship. They also gave investigators clues about where Theesfeld was heading a week before Ally's death.

On Friday July 12, Theesfeld would take a road trip home to Fort Worth, Texas. That same day, Ally texted him a photo of two more ambiguous home pregnancy tests. Less than 48 hours later, at 4:16 p.m. he posts a disturbing photo on social media.

Ben Creekmore: He does a Snapchat saying, with a picture of this .40 caliber gun.

And there's a chilling caption: "finally taking my baby back to Oxford."

A DISTURBING DIGITAL FOOTPRINT

By the time Brandon Theesfeld drove back from Texas to Mississippi, he'd left a digital footprint and prosecutors say it revealed a deeply disturbing web search history.

Ben Creekmore: He is doing some computer searches on how to get away with crimes … how to conceal crimes, planning preparation type stuff … how to tie people up and how to lure them … he did a search on.

Ben Creekmore and Mickey Mallette: Ted Bundy.

For Ally's friend Morgan it was an eerie reminder.

Morgan Hull: A few months before this happened, Ally and I watched the Ted Bundy movie together and we just sat in her bed, and we ate popcorn and snacked. … and we were like, "this is so messed up". … And then months later, you know, this happens to Ally.

Michelle Miller: What explanation do you have for what he was thinking when he is making these searches?

Tony Farese: Well, he certainly has some searches that could be troubling. It depends on how you view those when you start looking at someone's search history … you are watching TV … you've got all sorts of new shows that feature Ted Bundy.

Attorney Tony Farese says the search history doesn't prove Theesfeld had been planning to shoot Ally. He says there's an innocent explanation for why his client brought that pistol back to Mississippi.

Tony Farese: That's not outlandish in our part of the country … in Mississippi and Texas, people — people shoot. We've got shooting ranges here in Oxford … so we deny that it was brought back for the sole purpose of killing Ally.

But it was clear to prosecutors Theesfeld's trip to Texas and the computer searches were part of a carefully laid out plan.

Ben Creekmore: When you put it together it would appear to us what his purpose was in bringing the gun back.

A gun, that apparently, he didn't even know how to use.

Investigator Jarrett Bundren: If you sit there and you go through all of his Google searches, he don't even really know how to work a gun … he was Googling … "hollow point ammo" … "what button does what on a Glock pistol?"

On Thursday July 18, shortly before 2 a.m., Ally texts Theesfeld a photo of her stomach.

The following day, Friday July 19 – the day before her death – Theesfeld texts Ally:

BRANDON THEESFELD TEXT: "are you gonna be home today cause i could visit"

Almost two hours later, Ally texts him another photo and this message:

ALLY KOSTIAL TEXT: "Like it isn't like I'm not that small anymore and I can pretend I'm fat rn … but idk its getting hard"

After a few more texts from Ally, Theesfeld writes:

BRANDON THEESFELD TEXT: "Just let me know when you are back from going out, is your house private rn?"

Ben Creekmore: The … horrifying irony is that … text messages from him to her … were asking …is it a good environment, are your friends going to be there? … and … you could assume that she's thinking he wants to talk about the pregnancy issue and work on the relationship. … in his mind, he's thinking I don't want any witnesses when I get her in the car with me.

Minutes before midnight, a security camera captured Ally walking out of a bar in Oxford Square. Then, around 1:30 a.m., prosecutors say Theesfeld and Ally take that dark and desolate drive to Sardis Lake.

Michelle Miller: Once you turn off that paved road, onto the dirt road, and then another 10 minutes to get here, there's no one out here, I mean this is an abandoned fish camp.

Mickey Mallette: Yes, ma'am.

Assistant district attorney Mickey Mallette and investigator Jarrett Bundren took "48 Hours" to the place where it happened where there's now a makeshift memorial.

Michelle Miller: I mean, I can only imagine what was going through her head … wasn't she alarmed? Wasn't she concerned?

Mickey Mallette: In her mind, she may not have had a reason before that to be in the same kind of fear. We'll never know, but I think she was just so blinded by her desperation … to talk about what to do, in their relationship.

Investigators found cans of White Claw Hard Seltzer on the picnic table. Eleven shell casings were discovered on the ground.

Michelle Miller: What did ballistics tell you?

Investigator Jarrett Bundren: Ballistics tell me he was either sitting across from her on that side of the table, he fires one shot, there was one shell casing (Jarrett points) here, and the other 10, were in that area coming around the table, they was not all in one spot, it like started (moves his arm from left to right) coming all the way around.

Michelle Miller: He circled her?

Jarrett Bundren: Yeah.

Michelle Miller: And with every move.

Jarrett Bundren: He was firing … even one round hit the table, right there.

Michelle Miller: And he just left her here?

Jarrett Bundren: Left her here.

Theesfeld knew all about that place on the lake; He'd been there his freshman year. His attorney told "48 Hours" what Theesfeld says happened that night.

Tony Farese: He had been drinking all day, she had been drinking, they're listening to music. They start talking. … Brandon has some cocaine … he goes to the truck, does a little cocaine inside the truck, goes back to the picnic table.

Theesfeld, he says, goes back to his truck again, grabs his pistol, and fires a shot across the lake.

Jarrett Bundren: Yeah.

Michelle Miller: And with every move.

Tony Farese: She states, "Oh, you're crazy". They sit there and talk, then he shoots her.

Remember, Ally was shot at least nine times.

Michelle Miller: Why? … It just came out of nowhere?

Tony Farese: I'm not sure out of nowhere. … Brandon denies that it was planned when he took her out there.

Tony Farese: I don't think Brandon would have been in this situation but for his choice of consuming alcohol and then using cocaine.

Michelle Miller: So, you're saying in that moment under the influence of alcohol and cocaine, he snapped?

Tony Farese: That's what I'm saying.

Cindy Kostial: It was out of rage. Out of rage.

Michelle Miller: And rage for what?

Cindy Kostial: Maybe he thought he was going to be a father and he wanted to end it his own way.

A PLEA DEAL

The evidence against Brandon Theesfeld, according to prosecutors, was overwhelming.

Ben Creekmore: There was a lot of planning on Theesfeld's part about what he was going to do. I'm not saying it was smart the way he did it, but a pretty good indication that he was looking for a remote location so her body would not be discovered.

Michelle Miller: No doubt in your mind that that this was premeditated?

Mickey Mallette: No doubt.

Michelle Miller: Heat of passion?

Ben Creekmore: No no, it was cold and calculated —

Mickey Mallete: — this was calculated over a very extended period of time…

Ben Creekmore: Which is why it was capital murder.

In Mississippi, a capital murder charge means another felony crime was involved, and, in this case, prosecutors say that crime was kidnapping. They believe Theesfeld lured Ally into his truck.

Ben Creekmore: … under the guise of working the relationship out when he had a .40-caliber pistol and had planned her murder all along.

Theesfeld's attorney says that theory might be tough to prove at trial.

Tony Farese: They were going to have to show that we kidnapped Ally. She voluntarily gets in the truck. They're going to try and say that we tricked her … that's a very big stretch.

With Theesfeld facing a possible death sentence, and prosecutors knowing a capital murder trial could be grueling, emotional, and risky for everyone involved, they presented the defense with an offer.

Tony Farese: If you get a plea other than death, then guess what? You've got a scenario where a plea to a lesser charge of first-degree murder is certainly more attractive.

And that's exactly what happened. On August 27, 2021, Brandon Theesfeld, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. Ally's family and friends were there wearing her favorite color, pink.

The judge sentenced Brandon to life in prison. Reporter Jake Thompson was in the courtroom.

Jake Thompson: We never saw emotion from him until the plea hearing when he spoke or read a little bit … he broke down in tears … that was the first time he showed emotion.

Theesfeld's audio was muffled when he faced the judge and addressed the court. He said in part:

"There is no excuse for my actions. I have asked God for forgiveness, and I hope one day that you will find it in your hearts to forgive me."

Tony Farese: Brandon Theesfeld stood up and accepted responsibility in open court. … And the realization of the consequences of his actions are very real and sobering … there's no parole for murder in Mississippi, so let me tell you that is a terrible penalty.

Michelle Miller: Why did he say he killed her?

Tony Farese: There's no justification for his conduct. And I believe no good explanation for what he did.

Michelle Miller: Does he say why, though?

Tony Farese: No, I'm just telling you to the best of, I mean there's no good answer. … I think what has been explained is he is impaired on alcohol, he's drunk. … he's impaired on cocaine. We certainly know what that does to someone's mind … so, you know, was he justified? Absolutely not. … Were they arguing? Not to my knowledge. … did the allegation of pregnancy going on and on and on contribute to that? Certainly, could have.

Tony Farese: He shared with us that he didn't, he didn't know, but he didn't believe that she were pregnant.

Michelle Miller: Oh, he said he didn't believe she –

Tony Farese: He doubted that she was –

Michelle Miller: He doubted that she was pregnant.

Tony Farese: He doubted that she was pregnant.

Prosecutors say the home pregnancy tests results were inconclusive. Ally's autopsy report, however, was definitive.

Mickey Mallette: We know medically she was not pregnant.

Could Ally have been pregnant in the months leading up to her death? According to a text message she sent Theesfeld in early July, Ally says she had been bleeding and believed something was wrong.

Mickey Mallette: There was … some evidence that would have, that could indicate she had a miscarriage.

Michelle Miller: Do you believe she was pregnant?

Cindy Kostial: I do. At some point I do.

Michelle Miller: To your knowledge, was she pregnant?

Morgan Hull: We just don't know. She could have been, but also the results were inconclusive, so we really just aren't sure.

Prosecutors believe what happened between Ally Kostial and Brandon Theesfeld is a cautionary tale.

Ben Creekmore: I can't imagine how there could be any way possible that Ally could have known that Brandon Theesfeld was capable of doing what he did to her. If she had any idea that this is what this person was capable of, she would never had gotten in that truck … I think love can blind us to certain things that other people can see that we can't.

Brandon Theesfeld's family chose not to participate in our broadcast. His mother asked his attorney to share these words:

Tony Farese (reading email):

… when I heard Brandon was being spoken to by the police, I still had no single thought it could be him … now, after two years and knowing more of the details of their relationship I am heartbroken for every person this impacts and crushed that our son did not share with us any of the turmoil he was trying to manage … I encourage every parent to regularly sit down with their children, teenagers, young adults, and discuss with them that there will never be anything too big, too complicated, too out of control that they cannot tell you about. We will always pray for the family and friends of Ally Kostial.

Cindy and Keith Kostial are holding on to their memories.

Michelle Miller: How are you doing?

Keith Kostial: It's the quietest moments that are the most haunting

Cindy Kostial: She was my life. My everything.

For her friends, Ally's love for sunsets still shines through.

Elizabeth Brock: So, every time we see a sunset or a pink sunset we're like that's Ally.

Morgan Hull: We just try to live for her and bring her light into the world.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with substance abuse or their mental health visit SAMHSA.gov or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).


Produced by Marcelena Spencer and Susan Mallie. Ryan Smith is the development producer. Iris Carreras is the field producer. Phil Tangel, Richard Barber and Wini Dini are the editors. Anthony Batson is the senior broadcast producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.

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