By DENISE LAVOIE
CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (AP) - The accomplice of a former Virginia Tech student charged in the stabbing death of a 13-year-old girl had a fascination with knives and was "deeply motivated" to kill the teen, a defense attorney said Tuesday.
At the opening of David Eisenhauer's murder trial, his attorney, John Lichtenstein, tried to shift the jury's focus to his friend and alleged accomplice, Natalie Keepers, who will go on trial later this year.
Eisenhauer is accused of making a "secret date" with Nicole Lovell in 2016 after meeting the teen through Kik, an instant messaging app.
Nicole, a middle-school student from Blacksburg, climbed out of her bedroom window to meet Eisenhauer, who was then an 18-year-old engineering student at the nearby campus.
On Jan. 27, 2016, Eisenhauer stabbed Nicole 14 times and cut her throat because he was worried his relationship with the underage girl would be exposed, prosecutors said.
Commonwealth's Attorney Mary Pettitt said the two had been communicating through social media for months and had met at least once.
"He has a problem and his problem is Nicole Lovell," she said. "He's decided that this relationship with an underage girl is a problem."
Pettitt said Eisenhauer had been researching ways to kill someone for weeks before Lovell disappeared, using computer searches that included: "How long does it take to burn a body?" and "What is used to ID a body?"
Several days before Lovell was killed, Eisenhauer had talked with Keepers about switching out Nicole's medication with cyanide capsules, Pettitt said.
Nicole's mother, Tammy Weeks, testified that her daughter had a liver transplant as an infant and needed to take anti-rejection medication twice a day.
Pettitt said Eisenhauer and Keepers drove around hours before Nicole disappeared "looking for an area where they can commit murder."
She said Eisenhauer drove to Nicole's apartment building just after midnight on Jan. 27, 2016, then took her to the wooded area he and Keepers had picked out earlier.
"Then the defendant coldly and ruthlessly stabs Nicole ... not once, not twice, but 14 times," Pettitt said.
She said Eisenhauer's DNA was later found under Nicole's fingernails and her blood was found in the trunk of his car.
But Eisenhauer's attorney sought to blame Keepers, who has been charged as an accessory and is scheduled to go on trial in September. Keepers told police she helped plan the girl's death and helped clean up her body afterward, but insisted she was not present during the killing.
Lichtenstein told the jury that, gradually, over the course of 20 hours of police questioning, Keepers admitted she helped plan the killing, helped clean Nicole's body and helped dump her body just over the state line in North Carolina. He said the one thing she could not admit was that "she was at the scene of this murder."
"The evidence in the case will be that the presence of someone else at that scene and the presence of someone else who was deeply motivated to commit that murder will leave you with that reasonable doubt," Lichtenstein said.
In Keepers' dorm room, police found Nicole's "Minions" blanket, which she had taken with her the night she disappeared.
Eisenhauer's lawyer told jurors that Eisenhauer wanted to wipe his phone history clean, but it was Keepers who "wanted to talk" about killing Lovell. She was "exhilarated" and "excited" when she discussed killing Lovell with Eisenhauer, the attorney said.
"It was Natalie Keepers who said she wanted a more permanent solution," Lichtenstein said.
Keepers, also an engineering student at Virginia Tech, told police Eisenhauer claimed he met Lovell at a party and may have had sex with her, but could not remember because he blacked out. Keepers told police Eisenhauer feared the girl could be pregnant.
A medical examiner testified Tuesday that Nicole died of a lethal stab wound to her neck. She said Nicole was not pregnant.
Jurors were also shown a video of an FBI interrogation in which Eisenhauer acknowledges seeing Nicole the night she disappeared.
The 55-minute video is the first part of an interrogation by an FBI agent who questioned Eisenhauer three days after she disappeared, but before her body was found.
Eisenhauer tells the agent he had been communicating with Lovell through social media, but that she told him she was 16 or 17. He said he agreed to meet her at her apartment building, but quickly left after he saw how young she was and she asked him if they could run away.
He said: "I wanted nothing to do with that."
After the FBI agent repeatedly pressed him, Eisenhauer got up and said he was calling a lawyer.
Eisenhauer's lawyers strenuously objected to allowing the jury to hear the interview and later asked the judge to declare a mistrial, saying comments made by the FBI agent were severely prejudicial. The agent told Eisenhauer that "all the evidence" pointed to his involvement.
Judge Robert Turk denied the request for a mistrial.
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