CHRISTIANSBURG — Former Virginia Tech student David Edmond Eisenhauer has been sentenced to serve 50 years in prison for the 2016 murder of Blacksburg seventh-grader Nicole Madison Lovell.
Judge Robert Turk delivered the sentence Tuesday after a day of testimony, bringing an early end to what was scheduled to be a two-day hearing. Having convicted Eisenhauer in February, Turk imposed a sentence of 60 years for first-degree murder, 10 years for abduction and five years for concealing Lovell’s body.
The judge ordered that the sentences run consecutively for a total term of 75 years — with 25 to be suspended after Eisenhauer serves 50 years. Eisenhauer will be on probation for 20 years after that.
Before pronouncing the sentence, Turk asked Eisenhauer, 21, whether he had anything to say.
Eisenhauer, of Columbia, Md., looked down at some written notes and said, “I am sorry for the pain my actions have caused for Nicole Lovell and her family.” He added that nothing could undo what he had done.
In closing arguments, the prosecution asked that Eisenhauer be sent to prison for life. Defense attorneys John Lichtenstein and Tony Anderson of Roanoke asked for a penalty that fell within sentencing guidelines that ranged from 23 years and nine months to 39 years and seven months.
Turks said he was exceeding the guidelines because of the seriousness of the crime.
Eisenhauer’s jury trial ended suddenly in February when he switched his pleas to no contest and was found guilty on all counts.
A freshman in Virginia Tech’s engineering program, Eisenhauer had struck up a relationship with Lovell, a student at Blacksburg Middle School. Eisenhauer then decided he needed to distance himself from the 13-year-old, and eventually that he needed to conceal their relationship by killing her.
Prosecutors have said that on Jan. 27, 2016, Lovell climbed out her bedroom window and met Eisenhauer, who drove her to a wooded area in Montgomery County and stabbed her to death. Later, Eisenhauer and a co-defendant, Natalie Marie Keepers, also a Tech student, moved Lovell’s body to Surry County, N.C., prosecutors say.
Keepers, 20, of Laurel, Md., is charged with being an accessory before the fact to first-degree murder and with concealing a body. She is scheduled to begin a jury trial on Sept. 17.
Tuesday’s testimony included Lovell’s parents and grandfather describing the hole left in their lives.
“There is nothing that will happen in this courtroom that will fix it,” said David Madison Lovell, Nicole’s father. “You cannot put a Band-Aid on my daughter’s life.”
Tammy Weeks, Nicole’s mother, recounted celebrating what would have been her 16th birthday at her grave this year.
“Everything reminds me of Nicole,” Weeks said.
Eisenhauer’s teachers and a classmate at a Christian school in Yakima, Wash., that he attended until 10th grade took the witness stand to describe a boy who was academically gifted but oblivious to social cues. They say he annoyed his classmates with his determination to give the right answer first.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt asked Kathryn Anne Stoothoff, one of Eisenhauer’s teachers, if, in the Bible class she taught, they had gone over the Ten Commandments.
The teacher said that they had.
Isn’t the Bible pretty clear, Pettitt asked, on “thou shall not kill?”
It is, Stoothoff said.
There also was testimony from a neuropsychologist and a psychiatrist who had evaluated Eisenhauer and concluded that he had autism spectrum disorder. While very intelligent, Eisenhauer was bad at handling situations where there were not clear rules and where he did not have all the data, they said. Eisenhauer could not deal well with anxiety and fear, they said.
Both defense experts disagreed with the finding of a Tech psychologist who had seen Eisenhauer in the fall of 2015 and concluded that Eisenhauer tried to manipulate those around him.
Dr. David Scheiderer, who has psychiatry practices in Roanoke and Florida, said he also evaluated Keepers by watching 27 hours of her taped interviews with police and reviewing a psychological exam that her attorneys had produced as part of her defense. Scheiderer said that he thought Keepers had borderline personality disorder and had pressured an impressionable Eisenhauer to kill Lovell for “the thrill of it.”
“I think she was the mastermind. She was the driver of the process. She found somebody she could manipulate, and she did just that,” Scheiderer said.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Patrick Jensen protested that Scheiderer was diagnosing Keepers without ever meeting her in person, and that he was brushing off evidence that seemed to contradict his conclusion.
Turk questioned Scheiderer and neuropsychologist Dr. Joette James of the District of Columbia, saying that their findings echoed what Keepers’ defense team was saying in her case — each defendant was blaming the other for Lovell’s fate.
“None of that excuses anything that happened in this case,” the judge said. “It just explains why it may have happened.”