CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (AP) — A former Virginia Tech student was convicted Friday of killing a 13-year-old girl he met through social media.
David Eisenhauer, 20, pleaded no contest to all three charges against him in the stabbing death of Nicole Lovell: first-degree murder, abduction and concealing a body.
The plea came on the fourth day of testimony in his trial. Prosecutors told jurors Eisenhauer, then 18, killed Lovell, a 7th-grader from Blacksburg, because he was afraid his relationship with the underage girl would become known.
A plea of no contest means a defendant acknowledges there's enough evidence to convict him, but doesn't admit he committed the crime. The plea has the same effect as a guilty plea. Sentencing is scheduled for May. The judge told Eisenhauer he faces up to life, plus 15 years.
Lovell's mother, Tammy Weeks, hugged prosecutor Mary Pettitt after the proceedings.
"I was blessed to be Nicole's mother, to be her friend for 13 years," Weeks later told reporters as she choked back tears. "We fought every fight together... She was a great and beautiful girl."
During opening statements, Eisenhauer's lawyer attempted to shift the blame to his alleged accomplice, Natalie Keepers, who has been charged as an accessory before the fact and is scheduled to go on trial in September.
Keepers told police she and Eisenhauer talked about various ways to kill the girl and admitted she later helped dump her body in North Carolina after Eisenhauer stabbed her. She insisted that she wasn't present for the actual killing, but Eisenhauer's lawyers suggested she was there and could have been the one who killed Lovell.
Pettitt told jurors that Nicole and Eisenhauer had been communicating through social media for months and had met at least once in person before Nicole climbed out her bedroom window for a "secret date" with him just after midnight on Jan. 27, 2016.
Prosecutors showed jurors a piece of paper with Lovell's address on it, found in Eisenhauer's dorm room. They also said Eisenhauer's DNA was found under Lovell's fingernails and her blood was found in the trunk of his car.
After Eisenhauer entered his pleas, Pettitt told reporters she is glad the case has been resolved, but said the justice system is "incapable of healing this loss for Nicole's family, Nicole's friends or the community."
"We all suffer with the loss of this little girl," Pettitt said. "I do hope that we have been able to do the best that the justice system can do to provide some resolution and some justice."
Blacksburg Police Chief Anthony Wilson said Eisenhauer's plea does not mean anyone won the case. "Truly, if we had won, we wouldn't be in this room and Nicole would be at Blacksburg Middle School where she belongs," Wilson said.
During Eisenhauer's trial, Weeks testified that she discovered her daughter had disappeared when she found a nightstand pushed up against her bedroom door and the window open. Prosecutors said Nicole climbed out her window to meet Eisenhauer. Her disappearance touched off a massive search.
Her mother testified that Nicole had a liver transplant when she was 10 months old and needed to take anti-rejection medication twice a day.
Nicole's body was found three days later, just over the state line in North Carolina. A medical examiner testified that she had 14 stab wounds, including a lethal wound to her neck.
Eisenhauer, of Columbia, Maryland, and Keepers, of Laurel, Maryland, were both freshmen engineering students when Lovell was killed.
You can find updates from throughout the trial below, thanks to Justin Ward with WDBJ7:
FEBRUARY 9, 2018
9:55 a.m.: David Eisenhauer has been found guilty on all charges related to the murder of Nicole Lovell, after changing his plea to "no contest" on all charges.
9:27 a.m.: The fourth day of testimony began with Eisenhauer’s parents turning their back to cameras before the trial resumed. The court started 26 minutes later than it typically has during this trial. Eisenhauer was re-arraigned. He pleads no contest to all charges.
He could get life plus 15 for all charges together, the judge tells him. The commonwealth reads through the evidence Eisenhauer’s attorneys objected to the day before. Text messages between him and Natalie Keepers discussing what to do with the relationship with Lovell. Eisenhauer says he struggles to “keep it in his pants.”
FEBRUARY 8, 2018
4:00 p.m.: Detective Desiree Twigger from the Blacksburg Police Department is once again called to testify, this time about data extracted from Natalie Keepers’ phone. Twigger is able to separate contacts and messages from the phone. She found addresses and user accounts on the phone. One account username was “Hugsalskdjfhg,” the account name was Rachel Goldsparrow, this is a Kik account assigned to the email email@example.com. Underneath the contacts on the phone are four contacts including a David A., David E., David Eisenhauer, and David Eisenhauer Facebook Messenger.
John Lichtenstein asks Judge Robert Turk to remove the jury and objects to the introduction of the evidence that was about to be discussed in open court. Lichtenstein says his team filed a motion to see how this data and information would be entered and says at this point the information it is hearsay. He says the electronic conversations don’t prove they’re from the actual parties involved. He asks the court not to allow this to be presented in court. The Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Patrick Jensen says there is not much they need to do to authenticate the phones, the usernames, or the messages on the phones came from the parties involved. Jensen says he wants to submit these conversations keeping Keepers messages not for the truth of the matter but mainly for what Eisenhauer said in the conversation, to give context.
The judge says the commonwealth has the right to submit this as evidence and present it to the jury.
Lichtenstein asks for time alone with their client, Eisenhauer. The judge grants five minutes away from the court room. He then calls Natalie Keepers attorney to the bench, John Robertson. The two have a discussion then Roberson hands papers to the Circuit Court Clerk. When the attorneys return, they leave the room again with the Commonwealth’s Attorneys team. Meanwhile, Eisenhauer is returned to his seat in the courtroom and stares blankly at the table in front of him and continues to keep his head down. During this waiting period, Esienhauer’s parents remain in the gallery. His mother wipes her eyes and lays her head on her arms rested on the bench in front of her. His father stands against a wall.
When the full team enters the judge dismisses court for the day.
3:10 p.m.: Cory Bartoe, also from the Virginia Department of Forensic Sciences, is a forensic scientist. He was called to give testimony on fingerprints found on pieces of evidence submitted from the Blacksburg Police Department. He found seven latent prints on container of wipe containers. A latent print is a finger print that is not readily visible and comes from an unknown source. Five out of the seven belonged to David Eisenhauer. Two of the prints on the container were of poor quality.
Bartoe found three fingerprints of the shovel, two of them belonging to Natalie Keepers, who again is also charged in connection to this murder. The third print wasn’t readable. On the bleach container found in the back seat of the car there were four prints found and all four belonged to Keepers. Lastly, on the Walmart bag found in the Virginia Tech dumpster there were three finger prints found. Three fingerprints were found, all three belonged to Keepers.
John Lichtenstein begins cross examining and asks Bartoe to look through his notes of analysis for a green knife, women’s black boots that belonged to Keepers, gym bag, phone charger, and gray hoodie. None of those items were submitted to be examined. Lichtenstein asks if the zipper on the navy suitcase was ever submitted for examining. Bartoe says it was not.
Bartoe said some of the prints from the shovel shaft were in blood, neither of the prints were from the Keepers palm.
2:40 p.m.: After a short break testimony continues with Nicole Harold, the forensic science supervisor. She extracted blood stains on the gym bag, the DNA matched Nicole Lovells. A picture of blood stains on a minions blanket is proved to belong to Lovell. The same goes for a pair of female underpants. Blood was collected from the waistband. Harvey said she was not able to extra DNA from four cleaning clothes and one wash cloth that had blood.
A stick with hair fiber and blood on it was examined. The blood belonged to Nicole Lovell. Harvery was not able to use testing to pull DNA from the hair.
Boots, attorneys say belonged to Natalie Keepers, had blood stains on it. The blood belonged to Nicole Lovell. Harold is shown a picture of a shovel, and again tells the court the blood belonged to Lovell. Tony Anderson asks why some pieces of evidence were tested forensically and others were not. Harvey said she doesn’t always examine evidence that are found in groups.
1:25 p.m.: Detective Mike Czernicki is recalled to give testimony. He received and delivered evidence that were collected. Nicole Harold, forensic science supervisor at the Virginia Department of Forensic Science in Roanoke, is called to give testimony. She is considered an expert in forensic evidence and explains what DNA is and how it works, how evidence is examined, and how that evidence is examined for DNA.
She examined blood and created a DNA profile from Eisenhauer, Lovell, and Keepers. Clippings from Lovell’s fingernails had a foreign DNA on it. Keepers DNA was ruled out, Eisenhauer’s DNA could not be ruled out. DNA collected from the tire, trunk, and back seat, wet one’s container, and shovel all belonged to Lovell. There were blood on all of those items. The blood from cleaning gloves including the ones collected at Virginia Tech also belonged to Lovell, Eisenhauer and Keepers’ DNA were eliminated. She said there was not enough DNA inside a pair of cleaning gloves to determine who had worn them. They had Lovell’s blood on them.
1:20 p.m.: Travis Harvey is now called into the courtroom. He worked for the Blacksburg Police Department and was present when a forensic examination was completed of David Eisenhauer at a hospital in Roanoke.
1:00 p.m.: Julie Wesel with the Hokie Passport Office at Virginia Tech is now giving testimony. She’s explaining the purpose of the Hokie Passport, a card used for students, and employees of VT. Patrick Jensen, the assistant commonwealth’s attorney, asks specifically about accessing buildings and how that process works.
She is showed an access log from a data base from 2015 to 2016 that’s focused on David Eisenhauer’s Hokie Passport usage and Natalie Keepers passport usage. Wesel reads off certain entries into buildings made by both cards belonging to Eisenhauer and Keepers.
Tony Anderson, Eisenhauer’s attorney, asks specifics about how the card process works.
11:20 a.m.: Kale Craver with the Blacksburg Police department now explains he collected evidence that Blacksburg officers had previously pulled from dumpsters in an overflow parking lot on the Virginia Tech campus. Those items were a wad of napkins, a cleaning wipe, a cleaning wipe with a red stain, two rubber kitchen dish washing glove, and a blue latex glove. All those items collected for evidence were then put in an evidence room at the Blacksburg Police Department.
Tony Anderson, a defense attorney, asks if Craver was also at the Vet. Med. Pond investigation scene where a phone was found. He says he was. He also found a green handled knife in a hole on the property.
11:15 a.m.: Officer Jason Brooks is on the stand now, saying he joined Officer Austin Sumners searching through dumpsters in an overflow parking lot on the Virginia Tech campus. When he arrived the bleach bottle was already out of the dumpster. Brooks removed bubble wrap and cleaning wipes with a reddish stain on them.
11: 00 a.m.: Officer Austin Sumners from the Virginia Tech Police Department is called to give testimony. He was called to an overflow parking lot on campus to do a search in connection to the missing persons search. He looked in a dumpster and saw a blue plastic glove with yellow residue on it. He also looked through a blue dumpster with a plastic Walmart bag with a bleach bottle inside. Tony Anderson, Eisenhauer’s attorney, begins asking Sumners questions.
10:00 a.m.: Detective Desiree Twigger is called back to the stand. She testified Wednesday. Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt shows her pictures of Keepers and Eisenhauer walking through the Walmart store in Christiansburg on January 26, then purchasing and leaving with a shovel. Pettitt shows pictures of still frames of surveillance video from Cookout in Blacksburg. The pictures show Eisenhauer and Keepers walking into the restaurant. This is before Nicole Lovell was reported missing.
Pettitt now shows screen shots the Wytheville Walmart trip. This is a series of photos of them walking through the store with sales associates and walking out with a plastic bag.
Pettitt switches gears, talking now about where Lovell’s body was found in North Carolina and Crown Ridge Road, Eisenhauer’s Galax address, which is near the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Tony Anderson, Eisenhauer’s attorney again shows screenshots of surveillance videos talking about boots Keepers wore during her trips to the Walmart stores and Cookout. Twigger said she took boots from Keepers for evidence.
Anderson shows Twigger a photo of boots with what appears to be salt stains on them belonging to Keepers. She said she had never seen the photo.
9:50 a.m.: Chance Harrington, who was the Asset Protection Employee at the Wytheville Walmart in January 2016. He provided a copy of a sales transaction and a video to law enforcement. A receipt shows what was bought at the time Eisenhauer is alleged to have been at the Walmart. Harrington says cleaning gloves, disinfecting wipes, and bleach cleaner.
Tony Anderson, Eisenhauer’s other attorney shows a screen shot of surveillance video from the Walmart showing appears to be Eisenhauer and Keepers entering Walmart.
9:00 a.m.: The day starts with the jury hearing testimony from Deana Jones from the Blacksburg Police Department. She analyzed spreadsheets full of data from the data in David Eisenhauer’s GPS specifically looking at data from January 26 and 27. Jones reads a power point presentation of each movement from Eisenhauer’s GPS. The Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, Patrick Jensen, shows Jones a receipt from Walmart that matches the time on the GPS. The receipt was for a shovel and aerosol.
The GPS shows movement to the Cookout Restaurant in Blacksburg, then cuts off at Craig Creek Road. It shows movement again on Fairfax Road, where investigators have previously said Natalie Keepers lives. The GPS is tracked driving through Blacksburg, again to Christiansburg, and around the Virginia Tech campus. On January 27, the GPS marked points on Craig Creek Road, later to the Rural Retreat exit, then back to Wytheville, eventually over to Walmart.
Later plots show movement on 81, to 77 and then onto route 58 in Carroll County. The GPS shows movement onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and then back onto Coulson Church Road.
John Lichtenstein begins questioning Jones about how she is able to extract data from the GPS. She explains she had to manually pull data and plot points.
Lichtenstein shows a large poster board map of a corner of campus, showing the GPS makes points up Southgate Drive, through Beamer Way, where the GPS marks a stop at the intersection with Washington Street, the on to the I Lot on campus.