PUEBLO — Eight years ago, 21-year-old Kelsie Schelling disappeared after driving from Denver to Pueblo to see her ex-boyfriend, Donthe Lucas. Lucas is now the defendant in her murder trial.
The trial, which is slated to last around a month, came to a halt on February 10 because someone with a positive COVID-19 test was reported to have been in the courtroom. News5's Colette Bordelon received a contact tracing call from the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment, which said the exposure happened on both February 8 and 9.
The trial was recessed for 14 days, based on recommendations from the health department.
It is set to resume on Wednesday, February 24, at 1:15 p.m.
Before the two-week break, five full days of evidence were presented in the courtroom. There is a lot to remember from the first week of the trial, so News5 has summarized what happened.
Opening statements are like a map, outlining what to expect from both the prosecution and defense.
Lead Prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney Michelle Chostner began the trial by declaring this as a homicide case, and not a missing person. Chostner alleges Lucas lured Schelling to Pueblo over the course of two days in February of 2013. Chostner calls Lucas a "skilled puppet master."
Chostner said the relationship between Schelling and Lucas was rocky. The two first met in college, and Chostner says Schelling's mood was tied to Lucas. The prosecution claims Lucas changed her, and had control over her.
Schelling was eight weeks pregnant when she went to her first and only prenatal appointment on February 4, 2013. The weekend before that, she went to visit her parents, who say she was determined to make the pregnancy work despite any challenges.
According to the prosecution, Schelling clocked out of work around 8:41 p.m. on February 4, 2013. She worked at a store called Floor & Decor in Highlands Ranch. Schelling drove to Pueblo that night to see Lucas.
Chostner states Schelling never returned to Denver, or work, or her apartment after that night. The prosecution goes on to say Schelling did not communicate with friends, co-workers, or family after early February 2013. Schelling never scheduled a follow-up doctor's appointment after February 4. Chostner claims the evidence shows Schelling is deceased.
On February 5, cameras capture her car parked at a Walmart in Pueblo. The car was then moved and would sit in a parking lot at St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center from February 7 to 14, before it was discovered. Chostner says the car was moved and cleaned, with Schelling's belongings gone. She said Lucas admitted in 2017 he came back for the car after denying it.
The prosecution alleges Lucas withdrew $400 from Schelling's bank account on the morning of February 5, 2013, while driving her car. Chostner went on to say that on February 6, before 5:30 a.m., the lock on the Southside Landfill was broken. She said that same morning around 7 a.m., a tall dark figure was seen walking through the Walmart parking lot and driving away in Schelling's car.
Chostner says Schelling's family or friends did not have any of their calls returned in the days following February 4, 2013. She asserts Schelling's phone was with Lucas, until it powered down for good on February 7, which is the same day her car was left at St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center.
The prosecution also discussed hair found on the passenger side of Schelling's car that was identified as belonging to Lucas' mother, Sara Lucas. Lucas' DNA was also discovered in the car, along with a large handprint on the passenger headrest. The fingerprints of that hand were not able to be identified.
The prosecution claims Schelling was murdered by Lucas on February 4, or early in the morning of February 5. "There is only one man who had her every belonging," said Chostner.
The prosecution also focused heavily on text messages between #Lucas and #Schelling leading up to Feb. 4, 2013. They say Lucas lured Schelling down saying he “had a surprise,” but Schelling was very resistant to drive to Pueblo that night. Ultimately, she did. @KOAA— Colette Bordelon (@ColetteBordelon) February 3, 2021
Lucas' defense team began by telling the jury that the story presented by the prosecution is what they have found over the course of eight years. Defense Attorney Karl Tameler said the facts do not add up, show a location, or establish definitively that a death has occurred.
Tameler paints the picture that Schelling had a lot of nice things: a penthouse apartment in Denver, a car, and financial support from her family. Tameler said Lucas had none of this.
The defense claims Schelling "generously" offered all of these things to Lucas, so when he asked her to come to Pueblo on February 3 and 4, it was nothing out of the ordinary.
The prosecution asserted that Lucas kept Schelling waiting when she arrived in Pueblo. However, Tameler called Lucas an unbelievably late person. "It's just who he is."
Tameler said the Pueblo Police Department worked hard on this case, and turned over every stone during the investigation, but they "could not pin this" on Lucas. He goes on to say the pressure was turned up in this case by Schelling's family who was unhappy with the progress of the investigation. Tameler points to things like hiring a private investigator or a lawsuit filed against the Pueblo Police Department as the kind of "pressure" that was used to get answers, evidence, and "make this case."
He calls the case a "radical experiment" by the prosecution, because he says there is no body, no crime scene, no forensic evidence, no manner of death, and no location where a crime occurred.
Tameler also acknowledges the DNA in Schelling's car referenced by the prosecution. He said it would be expected for Lucas' DNA to be found in a car he often borrowed, and that Sara Lucas had even driven Schelling's car in December of 2012.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is the biggest reach in Pueblo's history," said Tameler. "Text messages do not make a homicide case... This is America. We have the constitution. We have rights."
Family and Friends Testify
The first witness called to the stand by the prosecution in this case was Schelling's mother, Laura Saxton. Due to a technical issue, the press could not hear the first part of Saxton's testimony.
Saxton told the jury what Schelling was doing on February 4, 2013. Her daughter went to her first and only prenatal appointment, where she was happy to hear both she and the baby were doing well. Saxton said Schelling was excited, but nervous, to become a mother. She said Schelling had started taking prenatal vitamins and was discussing trying to start eating healthier.
Saxton said it did not seem like Schelling thought Lucas would want to be part of the baby's life.
Another goal of the prosecution's line of questioning with Saxton appeared to be proving Saxton has no reason to believe her daughter is alive.
However, during her cross-examination by Tameler, he alleges Schelling gave Lucas upwards of $50,000. Saxton had never heard that figure thrown out in this case.
Saxton said Lucas did not seem concerned about finding her daughter when she called Lucas in the days following Schelling's disappearance. She said Lucas did not participate in any search efforts to try and help find her daughter.
However, the defense said there was a building accusation forming against Lucas at that time, especially on a Facebook page. "There were a lot of people commenting. It was a crazy time," said Saxton.
Tameler asked Saxton if she could understand why Lucas may have felt uncomfortable joining search parties after being named a person of interest in the missing person's case. "If it was me, I would have been out there," replied Saxton, saying it would have proved her innocence if roles were reversed with Lucas.
Several friends of Schelling testified in the first few days of the trial as well. All of them expressed concern in some way about Schelling having a toxic or tumultuous relationship with Lucas.
One of them, Lucretia Kinzie, recalled a night at dinner where Schelling said Lucas hit her. But the defense questioned her testimony, pointing to a prior motions hearing where Kinzie allegedly said Schelling did not say Lucas hit her, but Kinzie interpreted it from looking at text messages.
The defense went on to ask if Schelling's bruises had an alternate reasoning. "Her father would beat her, correct?" Kinzie said yes, Schelling told her that her dad would come to the apartment and beat her.
Kinzie never saw Lucas or Schelling's father at the apartment in Denver.
Another friend and college roommate, Alyssia Cox, described Schelling as "a hoot. Bubbly personality, very outgoing, very loud. She had a laugh that you couldn't mistake for anybody else."
Cox said she overheard arguments between Schelling and Lucas in their college dorm room. She heard Lucas call Schelling names like fat, ugly, and not worthy of anyone's attention. Cox said Schelling would "soak it up like a sponge, to the point that she kind of seemed like a beaten animal."
Cox remembered how Schelling stopped going out, and would stay in bed often. She said Schelling became very timid. Then, Cox was overcome with emotion.
Cox eventually moved out of the dorm room she shared with Schelling, but they reconnected near the end of the summer in 2012. Cox helped Schelling get a job at Floor & Decor.
For a while, it was the same Schelling Cox knew and loved, but she says Schelling started to change again when she began talking to Lucas.
Cox said it is not in Schelling's personality to go silent for all this time.
Schelling's father, Doug Schelling, also took the witness stand. He recalled when his daughter moved back to Colorado from California, around the October time frame of 2012.
Doug said he purchased a Denver apartment in August of 2012 as an investment, and planned to rent it out. However, he said it was difficult to rent in the winter, because it was an outdated unit.
Doug allowed his daughter to stay in the apartment upon her return to Colorado, as long as she was saving money. He brought some used furniture to the apartment, along with a new bed he and his wife purchased for Schelling.
Just prior to February 4, Schelling went to Holyoke to see her father. It was the first time he had seen her since Christmas. It was also the last time he would see his daughter.
Schelling did not mention her pregnancy while at her dad's home in Holyoke. The first time Doug found out about it was on February 4, after the ultrasound. It was a surprise to him, and he thought his daughter may expect him to be upset. "Thank goodness I wasn't. I told her I'd be there for her," said Doug.
He said his daughter sounded really happy about the pregnancy while on the phone. He ended the conversation by telling her "I love you." That was the last time he heard his daughter's voice. Doug was overcome with emotion several times throughout his testimony, including when recalling this last conversation.
Doug tried to call his daughter on February 6, and she never called him back. He received a text message later saying "I'm not feeling good, laying on the couch."
Thinking back on it now, Doug says "it just wasn't right."
When the family met at her apartment to look for Schelling, her father said it didn't seem like she had taken anything. There was nothing to give the impression that Schelling was planning an extended trip. "She was planning on coming back home," said Doug.
The prosecution also displayed a picture of the new bed purchased for Schelling when Doug was moving it out of the apartment, which showed the box spring had broken. "Kelsie didn't do that on her own," said Doug. However, the defense said other than speculation, there is no firsthand knowledge about what caused that.
Doug did not check in on Schelling's saving plan until she told him she was pregnant. She told her father she had nothing saved. He was very surprised and upset to hear that.
Doug didn't know who Lucas was until Schelling told him after the ultrasound. His daughter apparently told him she didn't think the relationship would work, and she would likely have to raise the baby on her own. Doug said no, he and her mom would help her. He said he was upset in his heart, but wanted to be there for his daughter.
Cell phone evidence
The prosecution also presented a large number of text messages between Schelling's phone and many others in the days surrounding her disappearance.
One of those exchanges was with Savannah Martin, Schelling's supervisor at Floor & Decor. Martin called Schelling's relationship with Lucas tumultuous, and said they talked about it while at work.
Martin never met Lucas, but saw him drive Schelling to work once.
Schelling and Martin had an in-person conversation about her prenatal appointment scheduled on February 4. Martin knew it would be Schelling's first ultrasound.
Martin said Schelling would regularly communicate with her superiors if she was going to be late for work, or was going to miss it entirely. Schelling texted Martin around 8 a.m. on February 4 to remind her about the prenatal appointment.
Then, Schelling was late to work the next day. Martin texts and asks if she plans on coming into work that day. Schelling responds and tells her she is really sick right now.
Martin: Next time let me know. What are you sick with? Pregnancy stuff or something else?
Schelling: Pregnancy stuff, I'll let you know what they say exactly. Sorry I should have called earlier
Schelling did not come into work on February 5, and did not answer Martin's call. Martin only received text messages back.
Then, Schelling didn't show up for her shift on February 6. More calls were made to Schelling, but no one answered the phone. However, texts were still coming in "pretty quickly" that morning around 7 a.m.
Martin: ... Do they know what's wrong yet?
Schelling: Not having a baby, please don't tell anyone yet
Martin: What happened
Schelling: It was growing in the wrong place, please don't tell
Martin thought these texts were odd, because the baby had been in the right place on February 4.
Schelling was scheduled to work on February 7, but never did.
Looking back, Martin does not believe Schelling sent her the series of texts after February 4.
Martin said she did not believe Lucas was upset by the pregnancy, based on what Schelling told her. Martin's opinions on their relationship were formed on conversations with Schelling, as well as her demeanor.
Agent Kevin Torres of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation was the lead investigator on this case, and was called to the witness stand. In 2018, Agent Torres said in court that he believes Lucas lured Schelling down to Pueblo, and strangled her. This theory was not addressed directly during the trial.
Instead, Agent Torres read aloud a series of text messages between Schelling and Lucas, exchanged between February 3 and 5.
The texts show the two arguing, and Lucas asking Schelling to come down to Pueblo. Around 5:40 p.m. on February 4, Schelling texts Lucas, saying "I'm done fighting with you Donthe. We can't even go a day without fighting or having hatred for each other... I'm tired of being miserable. This isn't me. I'm always happy, I don't even remember the last time I was happy. I can't do it anymore."
Ultimately, the texts show Schelling drives to Pueblo.
Then, on February 5 shortly before noon, texts from Schelling to Lucas are recorded, saying "Thanks for caring, I miscarried Donthe, nice to know you didn't care about the baby."
Cell phone tower evidence was also presented in court, which shows the general area of a phone's location. The report shows Lucas' and Schelling's phones interacted a lot from February 4 to 7, overlapping in the same areas for much of it.
The two phones did not leave Pueblo during that time.
However, Schelling's phone went silent on the morning of February 7.
On the first day of the prosecution's witnesses, they called Ryan Rivera to the stand. Rivera was in the Pueblo County Jail at the same time as Lucas.
Rivera alleges that before a card game, Lucas told Rivera he will never be convicted of this crime, because investigators would not find Schelling's body.
Prosecutors asked Rivera why Lucas said Schelling's body would never be found. Rivera responded by saying Lucas said his mom helped him.
Rivera told the defense during cross-examination that he did not want to testify against Lucas, but had to "do what was right." The defense focused on the fact that Rivera has struggled with addiction, and is a "five time felon."
Rivera said "it's not my fault he [Lucas] said what he said." Still, the defense pointed out that no one else can confirm this alleged statement from Lucas.
After Rivera, the Security Captain for the Pueblo County Detention Facility, Shelly Bryant, was called to the stand. Captain Bryant testified to Rivera's credibility, saying that in at least three other instances, information from Rivera led to criminal charges for incidents that happened in the jail.
Captain Bryant testified during cross-examination that there is no video evidence of Lucas and Rivera about to play a card game or talking on the day in question.
The prosecution asserts Lucas gave five statements to law enforcement officers, and three of those have been discussed in the courtroom so far.
One of the witnesses called by the prosecution was Officer Chad Sinemma of the Denver Police Department. In 2013, Officer Sinemma was a patrol officer, and responded to the missing person report from Schelling's family on the evening of February 9, 2013.
That evening, Officer Sinemma called Lucas. The call was not recorded. Lucas was not a suspect in a homicide at this time.
Lucas told Officer Sinemma that he last saw Schelling around 2 or 3 a.m. on February 5, 2013. He said Schelling came over and wanted to talk with Lucas about their relationship. Lucas told Schelling he did not want to be in a relationship anymore, and then Schelling left.
On the call with Officer Sinemma, Lucas went on to say that Schelling returned that morning, and the two went to Parkview Hospital. Lucas said Schelling went inside, and came out a short time later, telling Lucas she was no longer pregnant. Then, Lucas said they went back to his house, Schelling dropped him off, and left.
Then, Detective Ted Binet of the Denver Police Department testified to a recorded phone call with Lucas on February 10, 2013 at around 11 a.m. The audio of the call was played out loud in the courtroom.
Lucas tells Detective Binet that Schelling called him from a private number on February 10, saying she was really mad at him. Lucas said she was upset because she wanted to be in a relationship with him, but it just never worked out between the two of them. "She was like, 'stop calling me, don't worry about me, leave me alone.' I was trying to talk over her, saying your family is concerned... I screamed over her, your family is worried about you, they're going to call the cops, get in touch with your family," said Lucas. However, he said Schelling hung up on him.
On the recorded call with Detective Binet, Lucas said Schelling could have gone to California, to work at her old job at a tanning salon or get back together with her ex-boyfriend.
Lucas also tells Detective Binet that Schelling had claimed to be pregnant several times in the past, but told Lucas she was not pregnant on February 5.
Lucas told Detective Binet that Schelling drove down to Pueblo after she got off of work on the night of February 4, 2013. Lucas said when she got there, they talked in the car for a while. He said it was hard to make her happy, but he always tries to talk to her and make her feel better when she's upset.
The two talked for around an hour or so according to Lucas, but then he said Schelling got angry. This conversation was at the intersection of Manor Ridge and Siena Drive in Pueblo. Lucas left the car and went inside his grandmother's home, but said Schelling texted him around 5 in the morning saying she was still at the intersection in her car. Lucas assumed she had gone home.
He told Schelling to come inside his grandmother's home, because he did not want her to sit outside all night. Lucas said they would stay at the house for a little while, and then go to a doctor in the morning to see about a test to settle the pregnancy.
That morning, Lucas said his mom told him to take Schelling to Planned Parenthood. Lucas apparently wanted to go to an urgent care across from a Walmart in Pueblo, but Schelling insisted on going to an emergency room. Lucas said he took Schelling to Parkview Hospital, where Schelling went inside alone. He said she came out, and said "I'm not pregnant. I never was."
On the recorded call, Lucas said he didn't believe Schelling even went inside and saw anyone at the hospital. However, he said he could not make her go back inside. "Whenever she gets mad, you can't make her do anything."
When asked what time the two were at Parkview, Lucas hesitated, but then said around 8:30 a.m.
Parkview Hospital has no records that Schelling visited the facility.
Lucas said the last time he saw Schelling was on February 5, at a Walmart in Pueblo, around 9 or 10 a.m. Lucas said Schelling went inside to purchase snacks, and then they argued in her car in the parking lot. Schelling allegedly told Lucas to get out, and Lucas walked around the back of the Walmart where his mom picked him up.
The prosecution pointed out there were many details on the call with Detective Binet that were not shared with Officer Sinemma the night before.
The defense noted background noise on the call with Lucas, that sounded like children playing. The attorney says "you can hear Lucas admonish the kids at some points, but he never seems to get angry or violent... His tone of voice was gentle throughout the conversation, would you agree?" Detective Binet agreed.
Detective Binet does not believe Schelling's case would fit the description of someone who intends to disappear.
"Do you believe Schelling orchestrated her own disappearance?"
"No, I do not."
Pueblo Police Officer Melissa Jacober was also called to the stand, to testify to the timeline Lucas told her during a welfare check she responded to that was called in by Schelling's brother, Colby. Colby was searching for his sister, and wanted to contact Lucas.
The first stop on the welfare check was at Lucas' grandmother's home, but he was not there at the time.
Officer Jacober went to Lucas' mom's address, where he was babysitting his younger siblings. Lucas' mom, Sara Lucas, was not home during the welfare check.
Officer Jacober did talk to Sara on the phone, who said police have already contacted her three times and she had no idea where Schelling was.
Lucas told Officer Jacober Schelling drove to Pueblo to see him around 3 a.m. on February 5. The last time he saw her was around 9 a.m. that same morning.
Lucas said he was at his grandmother's home when Schelling called him, and he went outside to meet her in the car. Lucas told Officer Jacober they argued about Schelling being pregnant, Schelling wanting a more serious relationship, and Lucas not wanting to be tied down. He called it arguing about "the usual."
After that argument, Lucas said he went back into his grandmother's home, and Schelling slept in her car. Then, Lucas went back outside at 7 a.m. to "confront her about her pregnancy," according to Officer Jacober.
Officer Jacober said Lucas' mannerisms gave her the impression he was not happy about the pregnancy, and he believed Schelling could be lying about it.
When Lucas confronted Schelling at 7 a.m. on February 5, he said she was insistent on wanting to go to Parkview Hospital over St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center. Lucas said they drove to Parkview, and both of them went inside the waiting room. When Schelling was called back to the doctor's office, Lucas stayed in the waiting room.
Lucas said he waited there for an hour and a half or more. When Schelling came out, she told Lucas she was not pregnant, and they decided to go get some food. Officer Jacober said Lucas could not describe where they went to eat.
The two ended up in the Walmart parking lot around 9 a.m., where an argument ensues according to Lucas, and Schelling kicks him out of the car. Lucas indicated that Schelling left him "stranded" in the parking lot, and he called his mom to come pick him up.
He tells Officer Jacober that he assumed Schelling went back to Denver. He said he had no contact with her until February 10, and then changed the date to February 9. That's when he says he got a phone call from Schelling on a private number. When Officer Jacober asked to see that call on his phone records, Lucas told her he clears out his texts and calls every day.
Lucas mentioned Schelling had threatened to take her own life in the past, but was vague on what that meant. There was no indication it was a recent statement.
There is no photo, audio, or video evidence associated with this interview. Officer Jacober also said no one rushed her through the welfare check, and she would describe Lucas as "cordial and cooperative" when she spoke to him.
The officers did not see any sign of a crime scene at either home they visited. However, the prosecution said there would have been time to clean up evidence between February 5 and when Officer Jacober visited on February 11.
The prosecution called Jennifer Walker to the stand as an expert witness on domestic violence. Walker is employed at The Crisis Center in Douglas, Colorado.
Walker spoke generally to domestic violence trends, and not specifically to this case. She said in those relationships, the victim and perpetrator are situated in different levels of power. One person holds the power, and can use a variety of tactics to maintain that control. Those could include financial abuse, sexual violence, witholding emotional support, isolating the victim, or threats and intimidation of future abuse.
The prosecution asked Walker if domestic violence can escalate over a period of time. She said it can, but it does not always escalate. Walker did say if a victim gets pregnant, that can change the dynamics of the relationship.
Walker explained that a pregnancy can change power and control dynamics. The victim may no longer be thinking or focused on the offender in the way they once were. If the perpetrator is used to having the victim's focus, and it stops happening suddenly, Walker asserted there can be an escalation of violence at that time.
The defense made sure to reiterate to the jury that Walker cannot say anything specifically about this case.
Schelling's OB/GYN also testified, saying Schelling had a healthy pregnancy on February 4, 2013, with no risk of a miscarriage.
The last witness on the stand before the trial was recessed was Jessica Martin. She initially wanted to help investigators find Schelling, but ended up falling for Lucas. She first send a friend request to Lucas on Facebook in late 2016, but Lucas was the one to message her first.
Martin said Lucas was initially pretty quiet about the case, and when they met up to discuss it, she described the mood as awkward. All Lucas told her at first is that he was friends with Schelling, and Schelling would give him money.
Martin had been meeting with Agent Torres from the CBI, but at one meeting in early 2017, Agent Torres told her to stop talking to Lucas because she could get in trouble. However, Martin's feelings for Lucas were growing at this point.
The big takeaway from Martin's testimony is that even when Lucas was presented with the opportunity to confess or turn himself in, he did not. He never once admitted he had anything to do with kidnapping or murdering Schelling.
Our Colette Bordelon will be back in the courtroom on Wednesday. Follow her Twitter (@ColetteBordelon) for updates throughout the day.
*Note: The video currently attached to this article is a recap piece done before the trial started. This article will be updated with the current piece after it airs on KOAA at 10 p.m. on Tuesday night.