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Murder charges rare when victim is a missing person - KOAA.com | Continuous News | Colorado Springs and Pueblo

Murder charges rare when victim is a missing person

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PUEBLO -

The anticipated trial against the former boyfriend of missing woman Keslie Schelling represents a rare case in which a homicide suspect is charged even though the victim's body is nowhere to be found. On Friday, Pueblo Police announced the arrest of Donthe Lucas, 25, who is believed to be the last person to see Schelling before her disappearance.

Jurors in Colorado have previously convicted men for murder charges even without the presence of the victim's body. For example, John Sandoval was convicted of the murder of his estranged wife Tina in Greeley back in 2009. The case was later overturned on appeal and sent back to district court for re-trial. Rather than face a second conviction, Sandoval struck a plea deal with prosecutors in March and showed them where he had buried Tina's body beneath the grave of World War II veteran.

Criminal defense attorney Chris Samuelson explained that prosecutors in these types often have the more difficult case to prove because they first must convince a jury that the victim is really dead.

"They've got to be able to prove that things are so vastly different than when this person was around, this is so different than they would ever have acted, that they must be dead," Samuelson said.

"Then they've got to say it's because a crime has been committed and this person is at fault."

He went on to explain that “no body” murder trials tend to rely heavily on circumstantial evidence, which can also make a case difficult to prove.

“The problem is with circumstantial evidence, you don’t necessarily have a smoking gun or some piece of evidence that directly ties an individual to the crime,” Samuelson said.

“You’re really inviting the jury down this slippery slope where if they’re going to speculate about one fact, they may speculate about another and it creates a very difficult situation for the lawyers and for the court.”

He noted that the public has not yet seen all of the evidence that investigators have against Lucas. Testimony by a key witness could be crucial to the outcome.

A jury in Arapahoe County convicted Michael Medina in 2013 of the murder of his wife who'd been missing since 1996. Medina was already in prison for the murder of his son. Prosecutors said Medina confessed the earlier murder to both his second wife and a fellow prison inmate.

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