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A Colorado man has been convicted for the murder of his pregnant girlfriend who has been missing since taking a road trip to inform him she was carrying his child in 2013.
Donthe Lucas, 28, was found guilty on Monday in the killing of his missing girlfriend, Kelsie Schelling, according to the Denver Post. The jury convicted Lucas after approximately four hours of deliberation. Lucas had pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges.
"Justice has been served today," Pueblo Police Chief Troy Davenport said after the verdict was handed down, according to the Pueblo Chieftain. "I want to thank the case agents and the detectives that worked so hard year after year, and certainly the family who, I cannot, still, imagine what it’s like to be in their shoes. I just cannot understand what they’re going through and what today must mean to them.”
Schelling disappeared on Feb. 4, 2013. The 21-year-old, who was eight weeks pregnant, told family she was driving from Denver to Pueblo — about a 115-mile drive — to visit Lucas, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette. She reportedly planned to tell him she was pregnant and that he was the father.
Schelling was reported missing five days later. Her car eventually turned up in a Walmart parking lot. In 2018, a judge ruled that no “digital footprint” existed to prove Schelling was still alive, KDVR reported. Her body was never found.
The absence of Schelling’s body or any DNA evidence tying Lucas to her suspected killing had bedeviled authorities, who had previously excavated the front yard of Lucas’ home in search for any evidence, CBS Denver reported.
Ultimately, the jury relied on the history of violence between the couple in rendering a guilty verdict, prosecutors said.
“The jury heard essentially two weeks of that evidence,” 10th Judicial District Attorney Jeff Chostner said, the Pueblo Chieftain reported. “I think that was what helped them to understand and it gave context to their relationship and I think that’s what spoke to them.”
Prosecutors assailed Lucas throughout the trial for misleading detectives in the investigation’s early stages. Lucas’ timeline of events surrounding Schelling’s disappearance also didn’t add up, authorities said.
The couple’s phones had pinged in the same vicinity in the days leading up to Schelling being reported missing. Lucas was also later seen taking $400 in cash out of Schelling’s bank account.
Throughout the trial, Lucas maintained his innocence, blaming inconsistencies in his narrative on drug and alcohol use the night he last saw Schelling.
“I’m just trying to wrap my head around [it],” Lucas said in court, according to Fox21. “I made it very clear I’m not 100 percent on everything, like times.”
His defense team condemned the prosecution’s case as a witch hunt in their closing arguments.
“This isn’t the biggest stretch in Pueblo history,” attorney Karl Tameler said, KRDO reported. “This case is the biggest stretch in Colorado history, maybe even beyond.”
Lucas was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Schelling’s mother described the verdict as bittersweet as she choked back tears while addressing the press.
“This has been a really, long hard road,” Saxton said, according to the Pueblo Chieftain. “So we’re very, very thankful for this outcome. But in the end I didn’t get Kelsie back and that’s what I wanted more than anything. So I feel like I didn’t do something, I didn’t push hard enough on something, or I didn’t look enough on something to bring her home. So I have to live with that for the rest of my life.”
Saxton described her daughter as “full of life.”
"I just miss everything about her," she said, adding that she’s still holding out hope that her daughter’s remains will be returned to their family.
“So please anybody, you know, if you’re out hiking or whatever, please keep searching,” Saxton added. “Please don’t give up on the chance that she could be found and brought home and have the proper burial that we want for her.”
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