PORT ALLEN, La. – A suspected serial killer (search) faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison after a jury convicted him of second-degree murder in the beating and stabbing death of a 21-year-old woman.
Lee, 35, still faces two first-degree murder charges carrying possible death sentences in other cases.
DeSoto was found stabbed and beaten to death and her neck slashed in her home in the town of Addis the day she registered for graduate school at Louisiana State University in January 2002.
When the verdict was read, Lee was on his feet, leaning on a table. He did not react. His family stared straight ahead as the jury of six women and six men was polled, while DeSoto's mother and father broke down and cried.
The defense said there would be an immediate appeal.
Eleven jurors voted for conviction and one choose not guilty. Ten guilty votes were required for conviction of second-degree murder.
"All I wanted was 10. The fact that we got 11, I'm happy," prosecutor Tony Clayton said.
Outside court, DeSoto's family refused to comment. Relatives of other alleged victims said they were pleased with the verdict, although several expressed concern about the lack of a unanimous verdict.
"I was terrified by it, to be perfectly blunt, because in capital cases ... it has to be 12 of 12 jurors for conviction, and 12 of 12 jurors for the death sentence," said Ann Pace, the mother of another of Lee's alleged victims.
DeSoto's death was linked to Lee after he was arrested in May 2003 in connection with a string of five slayings that terrorized people from Baton Rouge to Lafayette for more than a year.
Police eventually alleged that DNA evidence linked Lee to the murders of seven women between April 1998 and March 2003.
Juror John E. Richard Jr. said the DNA evidence left no doubt in his mind that Lee was guilty.
"I went into it with an open mind," said Richard, a 67-year-old retired chemical-plant operator. "It was going to be close until they brought in the DNA."
The defense rested Tuesday after just three hours, never refuting the DNA evidence but seeking to shift the focus to another suspect. Lee's lawyer, Tommy Thompson, presented five witnesses who portrayed DeSoto's husband as an abusive spouse.
A neighbor, Sandie Gautreaux, said Darren DeSoto once dragged Geralyn out of their mobile home by her hair because he found ashes in the house and didn't like her to smoke. "He was beating her head onto the hood of a car because of cigarette ash," Gautreaux said.
Also called were police detectives who had gathered evidence against Darren DeSoto and acknowledged he had been a suspect. However, the detectives also said DeSoto was cleared.
Prosecution witnesses included Lee's own son, who identified his father's boots and pocketknife — two pieces of evidence used against Lee.
Sentencing was set for Monday.
Lee's next trial, for the killing of Charlotte Murray Pace, is scheduled to begin Sept. 13.