MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. - 12:35 update:
The jury recommends that Natalie Keepers sentence should be 40 years with no monetary fine. Her official sentencing is scheduled for November 27.
10:45 a.m. update:
Before a jury will recommend a sentence for Natalie Keepers, whom they found guilty of accessory to murder before the fact just a day prior, they heard more about the life of 13-year-old Nicole Lovell.
Tammy Weeks-Dowdy took the stand at 9 a.m. Friday as part of a victim impact statement to Natalie Keepers' and David Eisenhauer's crime. The first photograph shown was a picture from the hospital when her late daughter was born.
Weeks-Dowdy was asked about the impact Lovell's death had on her father. He was particularly close to Lovell. He was unable to come to court because of how emotional the trial was for him.
Commonwealth Attorney Mary Pettitt even pulled up a picture of he and Lovell at a daddy-daughter dance. "How has this impacted him?" Pettitt asked.
"It sucked the life out of him," Weeks-Dowdy said.
Weeks-Dowdy explained that Lovell loved animals. Pictures of Lovell were shown with a dog. Weeks-Dowdy said she had a dog of her own named Boogie.
"She loved dancing," Tammy Weeks-Dowdy said. "She loved her little skirts. She loved pandas."
She said that her daughter's room looks the same as it did when Lovell was alive.
"We were going to do it Monday, me and my son...it's just hard," Weeks-Dowdy said.
Weeks-Dowdy testified that she's seen a grief counselor since Lovell's death. She said she goes when she can, although it's more difficult now with work. She said she can't sleep now and has vivid dreams.
"She was everything to me," Weeks-Dowdy said.
"Is there anything else you would like the jury to know?" Pettitt asked.
"A couple of years from now you will forget all about this, but this will forever haunt my family," Weeks-Dowdy said with tears in her eyes.
Pastor Peter DeMick spoke on behalf of Natalie Keepers. DeMick was Keepers' childhood pastor.
"Over the past two-and-a-half years since she was arrested, I have made the trip down to Western Virginia Regional jail at least monthly to visit with her," DeMick said to the jury.
"She has expressed extreme remorse over what has taken place....she has prayed for God's forgiveness...even though she knows she doesn't deserve it," DeMick said. "She prays for Nicole's family, especially for her mom, Tammy Weeks."
Keepers cried during that statement.
Sara Keepers, Natalie Keepers' mother, took the stand next to speak for her daughter. Tearfully, she addressed Nicole Lovell's family.
"Words can not express the sorrow we have for your family," Sara Keepers said. "We pray for you every night. Especially for peace and comfort."
Sara Keepers described Natalie as a loving, gentle big sister.
"We ask and pray for mercy for her. For the Weeks family, we offer a Bible verse that has been comforting for us," Sara Keepers said.
Tim Keepers, Natalie's father, took the stand after his wife.
"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. "Please, my entire family asks you to have mercy on Natalie."
Tim Keepers, like his wife, was emotional during his prepared speech as he was reading it aloud. He apologized ahead of time for looking at his notes but said he wanted to make sure not to forget anything that he wanted to share.
"Without David, this would not have happened. Without Natalie, it still would have," Keepers said.
He brought up how his daughter mentioned several times that she tried to stop David Eisenhauer from killing Nicole Lovell.
"It was not sufficient but I truly believe she did try," Tim Keepers said.
After her parents spoke, Natalie Keepers, for the first time, took the stand. She remained in handcuffs and shackles. She continued to cry.
"I'm so sorry. Words can't express how sorry I am. I never intended for this to happen," Natalie Keepers said. She then looked back at Nicole Lovell's family who was sitting behind her. "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." Keepers thanked the jury for hearing her.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Patrick Jensen then stood up to ask Keepers questions.
"You were described as a good big sister. When all of this was going on in January of 2016, did you ever put Nicole in the place of your younger siblings?" Jensen asked.
'No," Keepers said.
"Did you ever consider the consequences on Nicole's family?" Jensen asked.
"No, because I didn't think it was actually happening," Keepers said.
A jury is expected to recommend a sentence Friday for Natalie Keepers, the former Virginia Tech student accused in the 2016 murder of 13-year-old Nicole Lovell.
On Thursday, the jury found Keepers guilty of helping plan the murder. Earlier, Keepers had pleaded guilty to helping dispose of the body. There has been no evidence that Keepers was present for the murder itself.
There should be a presentation of evidence in court on Friday, and then we will likely hear victim impact statements before the jury makes its recommendation.
This week, the jury saw evidence related to the case, including a shovel, Lovell's bloody "Minions" blanket, interrogation footage, GPS data, surveillance photos, and social media conversations between Keepers and Eisenhauer.
Dr. Jonathan Mack, a forensic psychology and neuropsychology expert, testified that Keepers has been diagnosed with depersonalization-derealization disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, dependent and schizotypal disorder, panic disorder, and persistent depressive disorder.
David Eisenhauer will spend 50 years in prison for the murder. Part of his defense was that he is on the autism spectrum.
It is possible that Keepers could get life in prison for helping him. She has cried in court several times this week.
Keepers' actual sentencing has not yet been scheduled. The jury will make a recommendation, but the judge does not ultimately have to take it.
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