MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. –
A judge decided Tuesday that 50 years in prison will be David Eisenhauer’s punishment after he was found guilty of murdering Blacksburg teen Nicole Lovell. It’s the end of one aspect of a two-and-a-half year Montgomery County murder case.
Judge Robert Turk decided not to hand out a life sentence. Instead, he gave Eisenhauer 60 years for a murder charge, 10 years for abduction and 5 years for hiding her body. He then suspended 25 of those years. He also ordered 20 years of probation and $5,130 in restitution.
The 21-year-old former Virginia Tech student pleaded no contest to the charges during his February trial, which showed significant physical and digital evidence as well as testimony that points to Eisenhauer convincing 13-year-old Lovell to climb out of her bedroom window before taking her to a wooded area and stabbing her to death in January of 2016.
Conclusions from the prosecution point to Eisenhauer’s desire to hide his relationship with the middle schooler as the reason why he killed her.
Eisenhauer spoke in court before the judge’s decision, saying more than the word “yes” or “no” for the first time publicly since his arrest. He read a statement in front of many members of Lovell’s family.
“I’m sorry for the pain my actions have caused Nicole Lovell and her family. It is my deepest regret, and I’m aware my actions have consequences. Nothing can ever undo what has been done and for that, I am deeply, sincerely and forever sorry,” he said.
LOVELL FAMILY TESTIMONY
There were many emotional moments in court Tuesday. Lovell’s mother, father and grandfather all spoke to convey how her loss has affected them.
Her mother, Tammy Weeks-Dowdy, said everything she sees reminds her of her daughter.
“I go to bed at night hoping everything was a nightmare,” she said in court.
Outside the courthouse, she told 10 News that the proceedings didn't give her closure.
“I'm just numb right now. It's not real,” she said.
Nicole’s father, David, said he now has post-traumatic stress disorder and struggles with depression.
“[It’s] just a horrible crime, just a shame and there’s nothing that can happen in this courtroom that will ever fix it,” he said.
Nicole Lovell’s grandfather said he still visits her grave every day.
“[I’m] upside down, can’t eat,” he said, crying and taking a pause. "We don’t eat. We don’t sleep.”
He said he can still see her bus stop near his house and let children off each day.
Commonwealth’s attorneys Mary Pettitt and Patrick Jensen showed pictures in court of Lovell with family members from her early childhood through the weeks before her death. Her mother said, while in tears, that it’s not just images like those that make her day-to-day life difficult.
“Everything reminds me of Nicole,” she said.
THE DEFENSE’S ARGUMENT
Eisenhauer’s defense lawyers, Tony Anderson and John Lichtenstein, continued their attempt to lay blame on the other person accused in this case, Natalie Keepers. They had witnesses testify that Eisenhauer is easily influenced by others.
Two mental health professionals testified that Keepers, who’s awaiting trial for being an accessory, orchestrated the crimes, and said Eisenhauer wouldn’t have wanted to kill Lovell without Keepers’ influence.
Psychiatrist David Scheiderer, who has a practice in Roanoke, did not speak in person with Eisenhauer or Keepers but said the defendant has shown no signs of psychopathy, and he believes Keepers is a psychopath.
“I think [Keepers] was the mastermind. I think she is the driver of the process. I think she’s found somebody that she can manipulate,” psychiatrist David Scheiderer said in court.
He said he believes Eisenhauer has a hard time making decisions when he doesn’t have guidance and clear-defined objectives.
Clinical neuropsychologist Joette James, who has a practice in Washington, D.C., had three sessions with Eisenhauer and testified that he has Autism Spectrum Disorder. She said she believes Keepers had an ability to influence him, although she never interviewed Keepers.
She said a test showed Eisenhauer has an IQ of 123, which is in the 94th percentile for his age, but he scored very low on tests for emotional intelligence.
On cross-examination, Jensen noted that Eisenhauer wasn’t influenced by the members of law enforcement who interviewed him immediately after his arrest, as he lied to them multiple times. James maintained that his disorder does not prevent him from having the ability to lie.
Former teachers and a friend from his time in middle and high school in Yakima, Washington, testified that other students would have Eisenhauer do their homework for them. They said he was socially awkward and struggled to understand the perspective of others
“He didn’t pick up on the normal social cues that everyone else seemed to just know,” said Kathryn Stoothoff, a former teacher.
They said that they never saw any cruelty out of Eisenhauer and that he always tried to do the right thing.
Through these statements, the defense team attempted to show that Eisenhauer has a hard time understanding the emotions of others and changing his behavior based on the response of those around him.
During the questioning and cross-examination, judge Turk interjected numerous times to ask for clarification.
During one exchange, after Lichtenstein argued that Keepers influenced the defendant, Turk said, “It doesn’t excuse what happened,” to which Lichtenstein replied, “No, it doesn’t.”
In her closing argument, Pettitt asked Turk to order a lifetime sentence.
After the judge’s decision, Eisenhauer’s defense lawyers said they don't want to comment publicly until after Natalie Keepers’ September trial.
The Commonwealth’s Attorneys have previously stated they’ll also wait until both proceedings have concluded.
The defense team recommended that Eisenhauer, who’s from Columbia, Maryland, go to a facility that has mental health treatment resources.
Keepers, who’s from Laurel, Maryland, is facing a charge for accessory to first-degree murder before the fact, which has the possibility of a life sentence. She also faces charges for improper disposal of a body and accessory before the fact. Her trial is scheduled for Sept. 17.
Very little of the evidence against Eisenhauer presented in the February trial was discussed or referenced in court Tuesday. To see more on how he met Lovell, his concern over possibly getting her pregnant, the stab wounds that provide insight into how she died, and what investigators know about his and Keepers’ attempt to hide her body, see previous 10 News stories here.