CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (WJZ/AP) — A former Virginia Tech student pleaded no contest Friday in the 2016 killing of a 13-year-old girl.
David Eisenhauer, 20, entered his plea 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 the Columbia, Maryland native, then 18, killed Lovell, a 7th-grader from Blacksburg, because he was afraid she would expose his improper relationship with the underage girl.
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 22 and May 23.
Tammy Weeks, Lovell’s mother, hugged prosecutor Mary Pettitt after Eisenhauer entered his pleas and was found guilty by Judge Robert Turk. The judge told Eisenhauer he faces up to life, plus 15 years.
“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 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 Lovell 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 presented evidence that Eisenhauer’s DNA was found under Lovell’s fingernails and her blood was found in the trunk of his car.
Prosecutors presented a shovel, which they believe was used as a murder weapon, as evidence. A phone that investigators took from Eisenhauer during questioning was also submitted.
Prosecutors said Lovell called the college student her crush and said Eisenhauer, who was allegedly trying to hide the relationship, responded with a message that states, “I can’t stress enough that you don’t tell anyone about me.”
Eisenhauer allegedly sent the following message to Keepers who is also from Maryland:
“So as long as nobody finds the body for a week, it will never be traced. We definitely did overkill, but that’s good. Always go overkill when you’re life is on the line.”
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 was missing Jan. 27, 2016, 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.
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