PUEBLO — The Pueblo murder trial in the disappearance of 21-year-old Kelsie Schelling continued Monday with testimony taking place regarding the Southside Landfill and photos presented of her vehicle.
This follows Friday's testimonies from family members of Donthe Lucas, the man accused of Schelling's murder, as well as text messages presented in court that indicated Lucas was seeking romantic favors from another woman.
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.
Discussing the Southside Landfill
Kim Pearce, the lead administrator from Southside Landfill, took the stand first Monday morning. Earlier in the trial, it was mentioned the landfill had a "tampered" lock. Pearce stated she recalled the "tampered" lock from either late Feb. 5, 2013, or early Feb. 6, 2013.
The landfill is located off Highway 78 and she said the gate to the landfill is always locked. There are two gates and surveillance footage near the first gate showed a car idling there for a while and she never saw the vehicle drive away. In the video, the vehicle's make and model are not clear.
Pearce said to her knowledge, no one breached the gate by vehicle though she could not say if someone breached the gate on foot. Following this testimony, Guadalupe Maestas took the stand. He worked at the Southside Landfill for 17 years and he was the landfill employee who originally saw the broken lock.
He said there were two gouges on the padlock portion, and a new lock was purchased by the end of the day. He went on to say illegal dumping can be a problem at the landfill, and that they've dealt with broken locks before this. However, on the morning of Feb. 6, there was no illegally dumped garbage around the gate - just the tampered lock.
Lee Reid, a retired police officer from Abilene, Texas, took the stand next. He began specializing in missing person cases back in the 1980s and later developed the expertise of searching landfills in these cases. He was brought in last year to look into Schelling's case, but more information was needed to be able to search the landfill.
He said since they cannot trace a trash truck to this incident, then he would not have been able to accurately find a section of the landfill to search. He mentioned that decomposition does not happen in landfills.
But, he says decomposition doesn't occur in landfills. Out of approximately 200 searches using his algorithm, he has located evidence in around 190 of them. He's assisting on a case from 1949, and talked about finding a body that was two years old and "completely mummified."— Colette Bordelon (@ColetteBordelon) March 1, 2021
Photos of Schelling's vehicle are shown
The next person to take the stand is Sgt. Nikki Thomas, who worked as a crime scene investigator for the Pueblo Police Department back in 2013. She captured photos of Schelling's car when it was found in the parking lot near St. Mary-Corwin's on Feb. 14, 2013.
In court, 35 photos of the vehicle were presented of the outside of the vehicle in the parking lot. The inside has orange accents and, according to News5's Colette Bordelon, there is an iPhone charger seen on the floor of the passenger side along with a bag of tissues in the passenger seat.
There were two white stains found in the trunk that were swabbed. Lint rolls were collected from the trunk. Swabs of door handles, the steering wheel, and the gear shift were also taken. Debris was seen on some floor mats; all four were taken into evidence. @KOAA— Colette Bordelon (@ColetteBordelon) March 1, 2021
Thomas testified that she didn't see any mud on the car, which was reported and discussed earlier in the trial to have been seen on surveillance footage from Walmart. She said a purposeful delay in alerting law enforcement to the presence of the car could result in losing precious time to gather evidence.
Robert Shawn Davis, another Pueblo Police officer, took the stand, testifying about a phone call from January 2018 where a community member brought him two pairs of shoes they said were found in a dumpster near the Donthe Lucas' residence. One pair had stains that looked as though they could be blood, he said. Tests were run on the stains, but not to check if it was blood.
By the way, the witness list has 175 names on it. 140 of those are from the prosecution; the remaining 35 are listed for the defense. Just a little side note. @KOAA— Colette Bordelon (@ColetteBordelon) March 1, 2021
More physical evidence admitted
A former detective in the Pueblo Police CSI Unit and current Sergeant took the stand next.
He was part of the unit in April 2017 and collected evidence from the two-day excavation of Lucas's grandmother's backyard. The home was under different ownership at this time.
According to the Sargeant, during the backyard excavation on April 14, 2017, a hair was found twisted up and attached to a small blue piece of plastic. The hair was admitted Monday as evidence.
To this, the defense pointed out that the Sergeant could not identify where the hair came from in the yard or at what depth the search was conducted. The Sergeant also testified that the dirt in the yard was compact, with grass covering most of it.
On April 20, 2017, the Sergeant responded to C&C Disposal in Pueblo after people reported finding "suspicious items" in a dumpster. The roll-off dumpster had apparently come from near the Lucas residence.
One of the items found in the dumpster was a box spring wrapped in plastic. The mattress had some stains on it and blood tests were run on them. The test came back inconclusive.
To this, the defense said dumpsters like these are commonly used by anyone wanting to dispose of something without cost.
CBI agent presents more evidence
Next, CBI agent Kevin Torres took the stand again.
Torres spoke about a search the CBI did of Lucas' grandmother's home in 2016. During the search, he found dark-reddish stains on a door inside the laundry room. Both were presumptive positive for blood.
Torres also testified that the CBI re-processed Schelling's car in May of 2017. He said they found several strands of hair and got two presumptive positive tests for the presence of blood in the back of the car.
The defense was concerned with the chain of custody with the car and pointed out that it had not been in law enforcement's custody prior to this search. Before the search, the car was being held in Yuma at Schelling's step-grandmother's home.
A mitochondrial DNA expert who examined the hairs was then called to the stand.
She testified that one of the hairs found in the car matched up with the buccal swab of Schelling's mother, meaning it could belong to Schelling. Another one of the hairs matched the buccal swab of Sara Lucas, Donthe Lucas' mother.
The defense wanted context for all of this evidence and had many questions. How did the hair get into the car? Is the hair from a living person or a deceased one? How long had the hair been there?
Colette Bordelon reports she expects additional testimony regarding this evidence tomorrow.
Leading up to the trial:
21-year-old Kelsie Schelling was two months pregnant when she drove from Denver to Pueblo to see her former boyfriend Donthe Lucas. Feb. 4, 2013, was the last time Schelling was seen. Her body has never been found.
The community organized search efforts to try and find Schelling with her family filing 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 2017, almost four years after Schelling's disappearance, Lucas was charged with her murder. By May 2018, a judge said prosecutors had proved probable cause. 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 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 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 Jan. 25, 2021.
Opening statements in murder trial begin in case of Kelsie Schelling's disappearance
Donthe Lucas murder trial will begin Wednesday
Long-awaited murder trial to begin in the case of Kelsie Schelling's disappearance
Previous coverage: The Kelsie Schelling Case