BATON ROUGE, La. – A jury took just 80 minutes to find a serial killings suspect guilty of first-degree murder Tuesday in the death of a 22-year-old Baton Rouge woman.
Jurors will begin hearing testimony Wednesday to determine whether Derrick Todd Lee (search), already sentenced to life in prison for another killing, should be executed for the slaying of Charlotte Murray Pace (search) in May 2002.
Lee, 35, sat stone-faced after the verdict was read, while the victim's mother began to shake and cry.
"I feel like somewhere, (she) must be real proud that it happened this way," Ann Pace told reporters outside the courthouse, breaking into sobs. "There is evil in the world and he is the personification of that."
Prosecutors took eight days to present their case, which included gruesome crime scene photos and evidence from Pace's murder and four other killings authorities have attributed to Lee. DNA evidence was used to connect Lee to the Pace murder, and a nurse testified that Lee tried to brutally rape and kill her in July 2002.
Lee's lawyers declined to call any witnesses, saying the prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense also questioned the memory of Diane Alexander, the nurse who claimed she was attacked, and said the DNA evidence (search) was unreliable.
"The state in this case simply has the wrong man," defense attorney Mike Mitchell said in his closing argument.
He later said he wasn't surprised by the verdict: "Jury members came in with their opinions and that was hard to overcome."
Authorities arrested Lee in May 2003 following a 10-month investigation that included taking DNA samples from more than 2,500 men in southern Louisiana. Using DNA evidence, police eventually linked Lee, a former truck driver, to the murders of seven women from 1998 to 2003.
For Lee to be executed, the jury will have to vote unanimously for the death penalty. Complicating the issue will be a defense claim, filed during jury selection, that Lee is mentally retarded, and therefore cannot be legally executed.
"This is halftime in the trial," prosecutor John Sinquefield said.
Outside the courthouse, victims' family members traded hugs and shed tears, with some wondering whether jurors will agree on death.
"If anybody deserves to get the death penalty, he definitely does," said Lynne Marino, the mother of victim Pam Kinamore.
In closing arguments Tuesday, Sinquefield told jurors Lee was a predator who strangled, beat and stabbed Pace and four of the other women he is accused of slaying while seeking a "few minutes of sexual gratification."
"He's strong, he's young, he has his weapons with him. ... He can kill you with his bare hands, and he demonstrated it in these cases," Sinquefield said.
In his closing, Mitchell said that DNA evidence against his client was questionable because the analysis was done by law enforcement employees who trained one another in at least one lab that wasn't accredited.
Mitchell also asked how Lee could murder several women without leaving behind other kinds of evidence, such as a fingerprint or a tire track. He also said police testified that some items were found at the murder scenes they couldn't match to anyone.
Sinquefield said Lee took the items that bore his fingerprints, including phones and an iron he used to beat the women, but that he couldn't erase his DNA.
Pace's body was riddled with more than 80 stab and puncture wounds from a flathead screwdriver and a knife. She had just graduated from Louisiana State University.
Lee was convicted in August in the beating and stabbing death of 21-year-old graduate student Geralyn DeSoto. He was sentenced to life in prison in that case.