CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. — During the first few days of David Eisenhauer’s trial in the killing of a 13-year-old girl, prosecutors presented evidence that the former Virginia Tech student’s DNA was found under the girl’s fingernails, her blood was found in the trunk of his car and her address was written on a slip of paper found in his dorm room.
The fourth day of testimony promised even more damaging testimony against Eisenhauer in the 2016 killing of Nicole Lovell. A friend of Eisenhauer’s was expected to testify that he told her he had hatched a plan to kill a girl named Nicole.
The case came to a sudden end Friday when Eisenhauer pleaded no contest to all three charges against him: first-degree murder, abduction and concealing a body.
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.
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.
But Eisenhauer’s lawyers attempted to shift the blame to his alleged accomplice, Natalie Keepers, 21, 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.
Prosecutor Mary 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.
After Eisenhauer entered his pleas Friday, Pettitt told reporters 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.”
In a later interview, Pettitt told The Associated Press that prosecutors had planned to call a witness Friday who would have testified that she was 15 in the summer of 2015 when she met the 18-year-old Eisenhauer online and the two went on to have a relationship “of a romantic nature.”
The witness, identified only by the initials “B.B.,” would have testified that in December 2015, Eisenhauer told her that a girl named Nicole was contacting him and said that they had “messed around.” Eisenhauer told B.B. he had met the girl at a party but later woke up on the side of the road and didn’t remember what happened, Pettitt said.
Pettitt said B.B. would have testified that Eisenhauer began to talk to her about ways to “take care of his problem” and told her he had come up with a plan — with the help of a military buddy — to kill Nicole.
B.B. said that when she later asked Eisenhauer if he was involved in Nicole’s death, he said she had fallen and cut her neck on a stick. The girl said Eisenhauer told her that the incident occurred “because he couldn’t keep it in his pants,” Pettitt said.
Nicole’s mother, Tammy Weeks, testified that she discovered her daughter had disappeared when she found a nightstand pushed up against her bedroom door and the window open.
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.
Juror Keith Johnson, 55, a maintenance engineer from Christiansburg, declined to say whether he was leaning toward voting guilty or not guilty, noting that Eisenhauer’s defense lawyers “never got their turn.”
“It was taxing to go through such a gruesome murder,” Johnson said.
Eisenhauer of Columbia, Maryland, and Keepers of Laurel, Maryland, were both freshmen engineering students at Virginia Tech when Lovell was killed.
Sentencing is scheduled for May. The judge told Eisenhauer he faces up to life, plus 15 years.
Weeks hugged Pettitt after Friday’s 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.”