PUEBLO — Almost eight years to the day a pregnant Denver woman disappeared in 2013, opening statements began in the murder trial of her ex-boyfriend.
21-year-old Kelsie Schelling was two months pregnant when she drove from Denver to Pueblo to see her former boyfriend Donthe Lucas. February 4, 2013, was the last time Schelling was seen. Her body has never been found.
On Wednesday morning at the Dennis Maes Judicial Building in Pueblo, opening statements began. The jury selection process started on Jan. 25, picking the 12 jurors and four alternates who will serve during the trial. It could last until early March.
Prosecution Opening Statements:
Lead Prosecutor Michelle Chostner illustrated the "rocky" relationship Schelling and Lucas had, citing one of Schelling's friends, Allie, who shared a dorm room with Schelling. Allie recalled the arguments between Lucas and Schelling and said Schelling's mood was tied to whether they were good, bad or really bad.
Chostner described the text exchange between Schelling and Lucas the day she drove down to Pueblo, highlighting that they had been arguing and how he convinced her to drive to him because he "had a surprise" for her. The two of them were texting while Schelling showed up for her first appointment to confirm her pregnancy.
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
Schelling drives down to Pueblo after getting out of work around 8:40 p.m., arriving at the Walmart in Pueblo's south side just before 10 p.m. She sits in the parking lot for about an hour waiting for Lucas to show up until he sends her a text to meet at a spot closer to a residence. Chostner points out that Lucas would go back and forth from either his mother's house or grandmother's house.
She arrives to their meeting spot around 11:15 p.m. where she texts him she arrived and then sent another text around 11:30 p.m. asking where he is. After a "flurry of texts" her phone goes silent until 2:42 a.m. the morning of Feb. 5 when records show a phone call was made on her phone, but whoever it is doesn't pick up the phone. Lastly, a text from Schelling to Lucas states she is having the baby and that she is on her own.
Chostner stated this is the last time she is heard from and the evidence shows she did not go back to Denver, did not return to work and did not talk to family. In prior statements to police, the prosecution states Lucas told authorities he and Schelling argued and that he decided to sneak Schelling into his grandmother's home.
Then, early on Feb. 5, Lucas said his mother saw Schelling's car and became angry because girls were not allowed at his grandmother's home. After the argument with his mother, Lucas stated he woke up a short while later with no idea where Schelling is.
Her car was then seen on surveillance camera footage on Feb. 5, 2013, driving through an ATM. Schelling's family alleges Lucas was driving and took $400 out of her account. Chostner pointed out that while Lucas was at the bank, Schelling's cell phone was pinging in the same area of town though she is not seen in any video.
There is also a text exchange between Lucas and Schelling that day with her telling him to bring her car back to Denver and indicating she had a miscarriage, though there was no explanation of how or when it could've happened. Friends texted Schelling that day and said it didn't sound or seem like her.
That same day, cameras capture her car parked at the Walmart in Pueblo. The car was then moved and would sit in a parking lot at St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center from Feb. 7 to 14, before it was discovered. Chostner says the car was moved and cleaned with Schelling's belongings gone. Lucas admitted in 2017 he came back for the car after denying it.
On Feb. 9, Schelling's mother, Laura Saxton, reached out to Lucas over the phone after realizing something is wrong and asked him if he has heard from her daughter. He replied he got a phone call from Schelling, though phone records show that never happened. Her mother then reached out to the Denver Police Department and visited Schelling's apartment where everything looked normal.
The Denver Police Department contacted Lucas when he told authorities she came to Pueblo around 2 or 3 a.m. and went to Parkview Hospital that morning, though the hospital has no record of her being there. On Feb. 14, the Pueblo Police Department took over the investigation and conducted searches for her.
Chostner says hair belonging to Lucas' mother is found on the passenger side of Schelling's car along with Lucas' DNA. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation also estimated that from the time Schelling arrived in Pueblo to when the car was dropped off there were an additional 165 miles on it.
Prosecution spoke about DNA evidence found in #Schelling’s car, including hair from #Lucas’ mom. However, defense says that’s all normal to find in a car. They say it was common for #Schelling to let #Lucas borrow her car, and even debit card.— Colette Bordelon (@ColetteBordelon) February 3, 2021
Defense Opening Statements:
Lucas' defense called this "a reach" to make Lucas out to be a murderer and began by saying over the course of eight years, these claims don't add up and do not establish definitively that there has been a death.
The defense states that Schelling had a lot of nice things, such as a penthouse apartment provided by her father in Denver and a car. While Schelling has these things, Lucas has none of these. His lawyers state that when he calls her on Feb. 3 and 4 to ask her to go to Pueblo, it is a normal occurrence as she did this all the time to visit and pick him up.
Lucas and Schelling's exchanges are described as "millennial type conversations" and normal for the couple. The defense acknowledges Lucas kept Schelling waiting the night she drove down to Pueblo, but that was normal and "just who he is." The following morning when he goes to the ATM, the defense states police arrested him for using Schelling's car but because she allowed him to use the card all the time, the charges were dropped.
Lucas' lawyers said the Pueblo Police Department turned over every stone in this case, but could not pin it on Lucas. There was additional pressure on the department with the family being unhappy and being sued for not prosecuting the case, according to the defense. His lawyers called this a "radical experiment" by the prosecution due to the lack of crime scene, body and no cause of death.
Technical difficulties with equipment actually caused media, which is working in an overflow room, to miss a bit of the first witness called by the prosecution.
The first witness called was Kelsie Schelling's mother, Laura Saxton. Once back from lunch, the testimony from Saxton continued. The goal of the prosecution's line of questioning appeared to be proving Saxton has no reason to believe her daughter is alive.
BREAK: Prosecution first calls #LauraSaxton, #Schelling’s mom, to the stand. The goal of the line of questioning appeared to be proving Saxton has no reason to believe her daughter is alive. Also drove home the point that #DontheLucas never helped search for #Schelling. @KOAA— Colette Bordelon (@ColetteBordelon) February 3, 2021
The next witness called said he was in jail with Donthe Lucas. He claims Lucas said that he would never be convicted because Schelling's body would never be found.
When prosecution asked the witness why the body would never be found, he said Lucas told him, "his mom helped him."
According to Colette Bordelon, the witness also said he has been in and out of jail, has struggled with addiction, and that no one else heard Lucas say this. He also says he still considers Lucas a friend.
The defense will have their chance for cross-examination on Thursday.
The community organized search efforts to try and find Schelling and her family filed a lawsuit in 2015 against the Pueblo Police Department and the Lucas family. The suit criticized the way the investigation was handled but was ultimately dismissed.
In December of 2017, almost four years after Schelling's disappearance, Lucas was charged with her murder. By May of 2018, a judge said prosecutors had proved probable cause.
Evidence revealed in the spring of 2018 included medical records proving Schelling's pregnancy, text messages between Schelling and Lucas, and data from cell phone towers. Investigators say the records prove there was never a time when the two phones were not overlapping in the same areas on February 4, 2013. Plus, they say both phones are unaccounted for, during a four-hour window of time.
The lead investigator on the case from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation believes Schelling was strangled by Lucas after he lured her down to Pueblo. The theory would explain the lack of a murder weapon.
Lucas pleaded not guilty to the murder charges in August of 2018, and the judge set a trial date for 2019. However, in January of 2019, both the prosecution and defense said they would not be ready to go to trial by early April 2019, because of an additional 125 witnesses who could possibly be called to testify.
The trial was then scheduled for July 2019, but Lucas' lawyers said they had new scientific evidence and needed more time to review it.
In December of 2019, the judge postponed the trial until May 2020, as a new lawyer joined the defense team. Then, in December 2020, the murder trial was set to start on January 25, 2021.
The defense team has argued there is no physical evidence in this case since no body or murder weapon were ever discovered. Paperwork filed by the attorneys also point the finger at another suspect, Schelling's father, alleging a history of abuse.
Meanwhile, the prosecution claims Schelling and Lucas were arguing for months and her pregnancy was like "gasoline on a fire." The attorneys have said they do not need to prove how she died, just that Lucas was responsible.
There are no cameras allowed in the building and no live reporting from the courthouse. There are also limits on the number of people who can be in the courtroom because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our Colette Bordelon will be there every day and will have coverage both online and over the air. Follow her on Twitter for the quickest updates.