DENVER – A Pueblo County jury found Donthe Lucas guilty Monday of first-degree murder in the 2013 death of his girlfriend, Kelsie Schelling, after just a few hours of deliberations.
The jury found Lucas guilty of first-degree murder in a verdict that was delivered just after 4 p.m. Monday. He was sentenced afterward to life in prison without the possibility of parole — the mandatory sentence for first-degree murder convictions.
Lucas’s defense counsel rested its case without calling any witnesses Monday morning before prosecutors delivered their closing arguments, arguing that all of the evidence presented at the multi-week trial showed Lucas killed Schelling, despite her body never having been found.
The defense argued that the case was “the biggest stretch in Colorado history” and reminded jurors that no DNA had been found and Schelling’s body had not been recovered.
The jury deliberated for under three hours before delivering its verdict.
The jury selection for Lucas’s trial started in late January, close to the anniversary on which Schelling disappeared, and the trial started in early February before the trial was paused because of COVID-19.
Lucas is accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend, Schelling, in 2013. After years of speculation that he was the suspect in Schelling’s disappearance, Lucas was charged with first-degree murder in December 2017.
Schelling disappeared Feb. 4, 2013, after driving from her home in Denver down to Pueblo to meet Lucas for a “surprise.” She was eight weeks pregnant with Lucas’s child when she vanished and had found out she was pregnant earlier on the day in which she disappeared. Prosecutors argued during the trial that Lucas had lured her to Pueblo to kill her.
But the only trace left behind of Schelling was her abandoned car, which was found several days later at St. Mary-Corwin Hospital in Pueblo, which Lucas was seen on surveillance video moving in the days after she disappeared.
A 2015 lawsuit, filed by Schelling's parents and later dropped, contained detailed police records showing at 11:39 a.m. Feb. 5, 2013, Lucas was seen at a Pueblo bank, where he allegedly withdrew $400 with Schelling’s debit card. Not long afterward, Walmart surveillance video showed him dropping Schelling’s car off and being picked up. Lucas was seen with the car on the same day at a Walmart in Pueblo, and an unidentified man was seen getting into the car the next day — Feb. 6, 2013 — and driving off before the car was dropped at the hospital on Feb. 7, 2013.
Many of those movements were detailed throughout the multi-week trial.
An investigator with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation testified that they believe Schelling was strangled by Lucas after she came to Pueblo. During the trial, jurors heard an interview of Lucas done by Pueblo police after his 2017 arrest in which he denied being involved in Schelling’s death, though he admitted to dropping Schelling's vehicle at the hospital.
Police have searched multiple locations in the Pueblo area over the past several years since she has been missing, but authorities have not said if they found anything of value.
Schelling's family is offering $100,000 for any information that could ultimately lead to her body being recovered. Lucas pleaded not guilty to the murder charges during a 2018 arraignment.
"Just couldn't give up on Kelsie"
After the verdict was delivered and Lucas was sentenced, prosecutors, police and Schelling's family spoke briefly about the verdict.
10th Judicial District Attorney Jeff Chostner, whose office prosecuted the case, said he hoped the verdict would “give some healing and catharsis to the Pueblo community” and ensure that Pueblo could have faith in its law enforcement agencies.
Pueblo Police Chief Troy Davenport thanked the jury for their verdict and reiterated Chostner’s comments, saying that the “Pueblo community knows we will not let these crimes go unsolved and that justice will be served.”
Prosecutor Michelle Chostner said she was surprised the defense did not call witnesses but that she believed that the two weeks of evidence the jury heard about the domestic-violence relationship between Lucas and Schelling gave them context regarding the relationship and “spoke to them” regarding the verdict.
“Being here every step of the way with [Schelling’s family] is probably the most important thing I’ll ever do,” she said.
Schelling’s mother, Laura Saxton, and father, Doug Schelling, also spoke following the verdict.
Saxton said she was still in shock but said she was “very thankful” for the outcome of the trial.
“But in the end, I didn’t get Kelsie back, and that’s what I wanted more than anything,” she said, through tears, thanking the investigators and CBI agent Kevin Torres for not giving up on the case.
She said she believed that her daughter could finally rest in peace but admitted: “I’m not sure momma can.”
She said the verdict gave her relief “for all the other girls out there who may have come in contact with him in the future if he had been acquitted.”
“I think the community should feel god, feel safe that he’s not going to be out on the streets today,” Saxton said of Lucas.
She said she felt there were times over the past years in which the trial would never happen but that she “just couldn’t give up on Kelsie.”
Through tears, she said it was going to take her “a lot of time to figure things out.”
“Obviously I’m going to forever say she’s never been found,” Saxton said. “So please, anyone, if you’re going out hiking … keep searching. Don’t give up on the idea.”
Doug Schelling said he, too, was struggling with what to do now.
“I think I need to step back and look at what’s the most important – trying to live your life, enjoy your kids and your family,” he said. “And it’s really sad that we can’t take Kelsie home with us, like Laura said.”