PUEBLO, Colo. — Kelsey Schelling's mother has been patiently waiting for her day in court, and on Wednesday morning she got the chance to testify against the man accused of killing her daughter.
Schelling's mother, Laura Saxton, testified a day before the eighth anniversary of her daughter's fateful drive to Pueblo.
Schelling was eight weeks pregnant when she made the trip from Denver to Pueblo on Feb. 4, 2013. She was supposed to meet up with her boyfriend, Donthe Lucas. He would later tell police they met up that night.
He is believed to be the last person who saw her alive.
Even though the pregnant 21-year-old disappeared in 2013, it would be nearly nearly five years until Lucas was charged with her murder. He faces first-degree murder charges.
Saxton told Denver7 at the time of his arrest, "I'm very glad that the D.A. saw that this was first-degree premeditated murder. I've thought that all along."
She has been a fierce advocate for her daughter ever since she went missing. Saxton took the stand wearing a purple shirt because it was Schelling's favorite color. Once she was seated, she was allowed to replace her mask with a clear face shield allowing the jury to see her facial expressions.
She became emotional at times, especially when she described the last time she saw her daughter alive. She said Schelling knew she was pregnant when she came over to watch TV and hangout during the weekend of Feb. 2, 2013. She broke the news to her mom about a month earlier after taking an at-home pregnancy test.
Schelling said when her daughter was over that day, she saw a bottle of prenatal vitamins in her car. They talked about the pregnancy and said her family was supportive.
"She wanted the baby. She was happy about the baby," Saxton told the court.
That would be the last time Saxton saw her daughter, but they talked again on Feb. 4.
Schelling had an OB/GYN appointment that day where she would see an ultrasound image of the baby for the first time. She called her mom after the appointment as she was driving back to work. Her mom said she had no idea her daughter was planning to drive to Pueblo to see Lucas later that night.
Prosecution lays out homicide case
During opening statements, the prosecutor said Lucas lured Schelling to Pueblo over the course of several days because he had an interest in making sure she did not carry the baby.
"This case isn't a missing person case, it's a homicide case. She was murdered on Feb. 4 or the early morning hours of Feb. 5," said the prosecutor as she addressed the court.
She compared Lucas to a skilled puppet master as she talked about how he convinced a skeptical Schelling to make the drive after work, despite being tired during the first trimester of her pregnancy.
The prosecutor told the jurors they would hear about evidence like cell phone records and text messages during the course of the trial. She read an excerpt from a text exchange where she said Lucas pressed Schelling to come to Pueblo. She added the evidence would show he would later have all of her belongings with him, like her cell phone and car.
As the prosecutor read text messages, she painted a picture of frantic family and friends trying to reach Schelling in the coming days. She said some text messages were sent from Schelling's phone in the days following Feb. 4, but the words didn't sound like something she would say.
Defense says no body, no crime scene, no homicide
The defense opened by saying the story presented by the prosecution is fiction created from different pieces of random information over the course of eight years. Lucas' attorney said that information does not add up, and it certainly does not show a homicide.
He defended his client while seemingly putting him down at the same time. In response to the pregnancy and the idea it might interfere with Lucas' aspirations to play professional basketball, he said his client's career was long over.
The prosecution would reveal that Schelling waited on Lucas to show up for more than hour once she arrived in Pueblo. The defense said Lucas is late all the time but asked, "Does that make him a killer?"
His attorney said this is simply a missing person case, and it's been that way for years until certain things happened that turned up the pressure on the case. He then mentioned that Schelling's family became dissatisfied with the investigation and hired a private investigator.
"Well, they got CBI [Colorado Bureau of Investigation] involved. They took one look and said, 'hey, we can make a murder case out of it,'" the defense told the jury.
COVID-19 protocol and technical difficulties
The trial is being conducted in-person, and a jury of 12, including four alternates, were sworn in on Feb. 2. Jurors are spaced six feet apart and required to wear masks.
Only nine observers, including family are being allowed in to be in the courtroom.
Members of the media are able to watch the proceedings in an overflow room. The feed only showed the witness stand, and the media were unable to see Lucas.
Reporters experienced some technical difficulties when the feed for the overflow room cut out at times. The audio was routed through a speaker, but it was difficult to understand until the issue was resolved in the afternoon.
After the morning recess, the feed briefly stopped working and the media were unable to hear the first part of Saxton's testimony.
Surveillance video and cell phone records
The prosecution said Lucas began covering his tracks the next morning when he drove Schelling's car to the bank and used her debit card to withdraw $400. During opening statements, the prosecutor said cell phone records will show Schelling's phone is pinging off the same tower as Lucas' during that bank transaction.
Surveillance video and cell phone records will be a critical part of the case. Previously released surveillance video shows Lucas parking her car, a black 2011 Chevy Cruze, at a Pueblo Walmart on Feb. 5. Schelling was not with him in that video. An unidentified man is later seen moving the car, and it was discovered at St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center in southern Pueblo.
The prosecution said Schelling was never seen in that surveillance footage because she was already dead. According to the prosecutor, there are some text messages from her phone to Lucas telling him to get out of her life and bring the car back to Denver. The texts also make it seem like she had a miscarriage.
The defense attorney for Lucas downplayed the evidence of him using her bank card and driving the car, calling it normal behavior.
Missing Persons Day in Colorado
February is a difficult month for Schelling's family. It marks the anniversary of her disappearance and her birthday is Feb. 18.
Her mom started Missing Persons Day in Colorado as a way to remember all of the missing people in the state. Every year she usually gathers with other families at the State Capitol, but they are unable to host the event in-person due to COVID-19.
According to a Facebook page for the event, the Colorado Bureau of Investigations will create a sort video highlighting various speakers that would normally be part of the remembrance ceremony. In addition to the video, a list of all the missing persons in Colorado will be posted online.