The jury returned on Friday to deliberate a recommended sentence for former Virginia Tech student Natalie Keepers, who was found guilty of accessory before the fact of first-degree murder in the death of 13-year-old Nicole Lovell.
After a four-day trial, the jury found Keepers guilty of accessory before the fact of Lovell’s murder on Thursday. David Eisenhauer, who is also a former Virginia Tech student, was found guilty of first-degree murder, abduction and concealing a body in connection to Lovell. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt called Tammy Weeks-Dowdy, Lovell’s mother, to the stand at 9 a.m. Friday. Weeks-Dowdy described how hard her family’s lives have been in the past two years since Lovell was murdered. She said they kept Lovell’s old bedroom the same, and her father still refuses to enter Lovell’s bedroom.
“It sucked the life out of him,” Weeks-Dowdy said.
Weeks-Dowdy also said that she has trouble sleeping at night and often dreams of Lovell.
“She was everything to me,” Weeks-Dowdy said. “A couple of years from now you will forget all about this, but this will forever haunt my family.”
The defense then called Peter DeMik to the stand. DeMik was Keepers’ childhood pastor. Over the past two years, DeMik has been visiting Keepers at Western Virginia Regional jail.
According to DeMik, Keepers showed deep remorse for what has taken place.
“Her (Keepers) heart is truly broken for Nicole’s family,” DeMik said.
Keepers’ mother, Sara Keepers, then took the stand. With tears in her eyes, Sara Keepers said Natalie has always been a loving big sister and asked the jury to be merciful on her.
The defense called Keepers’ father, Tim Keepers, to the stand. Tim Keepers described Natalie as a helpful kind kid who goes to church on every Sunday.
“Heartbroken. Rock bottom. Devastating. These are just words, but they have had new meaning over the past few years for my wife and I,” Tim Keepers said.
He also asked the jury to consider the fact that Eisenhauer committed the murder and that the murder would still have happened with or without Keepers’ participation. He also mentioned that Keepers did try to stop Eisenhauer from killing Lovell.
Natalie Keepers took the stand for the first time in the trial after her parents’ testimony.
"I'm so sorry. Words can't express how sorry I am. I never intended for this to happen," Natalie Keepers said tearfully. "I pray for your family every night. I am so sorry. I wish I could have stopped it. I never intended for this to happen. I'm so sorry."
Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Patrick Jensen asked Natalie Keepers whether she had ever put Lovell in the place of her younger siblings. Natalie Keepers shook her head and said no.
“Did you ever consider the consequences on Nicole’s family?” Jensen asked.
Keepers’ answer was still no.
The commonwealth and the defense then both delivered their closing statements. Pettitt expressed that she saw no change in Natalie Keepers after two years.
“There was no change,” Pettitt said. “She would still choose to do the same.”
Pettitt asked the jury to make a life-sentence recommendation and make sure Natalie Keepers will “never come out again.”
The defense asked the jury to consider the fact that Natalie Keepers did not take a life and Eisenhauer was the one who killed Lovell. They asked the jury to be merciful on her.
After almost two hours of deliberation, the jury returned with a verdict. They recommended that Natalie Keepers’ sentence be 40 years with no monetary fine for the charge of accessory before the fact to first-degree murder. Her official sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 27 at 2 p.m.
“I wish I had a magic wand that I can wave and bring Nicole back. None of us are able to do that, unfortunately,” Pettitt said in a press conference after the trial. “The best that I really can do is to stare evil in the face, speak for the dead, and hope that at the end of trial, I've gotten some justice and the family feels like I've done my best for them.”
Pettitt also expressed gratefulness for the work done by the agencies involved, including the Blacksburg Police Department, Virginia Tech Police Department and Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department.
“I don’t think there is a victory in these cases,” Pettitt said. “We are happy to have it concluded for the family.”