Appeals court affirms Keepers conviction for her role in murder of Blacksburg teen
An appeals court has affirmed a lower court's conviction of Natalie Keepers for her role in the 2016 murder of Blacksburg teenager Nicole Lovell.
In February, Keepers attorney David Hargett argued before Virginia's Court of Appeals that her trial was not fair, saying trial court made a mistake in denying a motion to suppress statements she had made to police, and in denying her motions to keep two of the prospective jurors from being on the jury.
But the Court of Appeals of Virginia said in a ruling April 14 (see attached pdf) that they upheld Keepers' conviction by the trial court. The published opinion notes the trial court did not make a mistake in allowing certain comments Keepers made to police to become part of the evidence in trial. The opinion also says the trial court did not err in allowing two jurors, with whom Keepers took issue, to sit on the jury.
Lovell's family is thankful, saying via Facebook, "We appreciate all the prayers and continued support from everyone through this whole experience. With this new ruling being upheld we are one step closer to being able to grieve the loss of our beautiful Nicole. We support the decision of the appeal courts and pray the Supreme Court will see it the same way."
The fight is not over, though. Defense attorney David Hargett says, "Although we are disappointed with the decision from the Court of Appeals, we definitely will be appealing to the Virginia Supreme Court. That appeal will be filed within the next 30 days and will be based on the same issues."
Wednesday brought new developments in the case of a Blacksburg teen's 2016 murder. The former Virginia Tech student convicted for her role in helping plan the murder says her trial was not fair. Natalie Keepers is appealing her conviction to a higher court, hoping she can be re-tried.
Three of the Appellate Court's eleven judges heard that request in a courtroom in Lexington Wednesday.
Keepers' attorney for the appeal process, David Hargett, had 15 minutes to argue why he believes Keepers should be given another chance to be tried. An attorney from the Office of the Attorney General also had 15 minutes to argue Keepers' 2018 conviction should be upheld.
But neither side will likely know the judges' decision for another few months.
We were in court in
when Natalie Keepers was convicted and later in November when she was
to 45 years in prison for her role in the murder of Nicole Lovell.
It was a process her attorney claims was not fair.
"All we're asking for in this case is a new trial and a fair trial," said Hargett.
After Wednesday's hearing Hargett said he likes their chances moving forward. He worked to convince the appellate court judges that the circuit court judge in 2018 should not have allowed prosecutors to show the jury some of the statements Keepers made to police during her two-day interrogation. He argues she was not properly Mirandized before making some of those statements.
"So he let in part of Day 1, part of Day 2 and without that evidence, there is a substantial question as to whether she would have been found guilty of the most serious offense," Hargett said.
He also took issue with the court allowing two jurors to participate, arguing they were seated with clear bias.
But a representative of the Attorney General's office disagrees. Virginia Theisen pointed to prior cases to argue no mistakes were made in the 2018 trial. She referenced paperwork Keepers signed early on, arguing she was not coerced or duped into making her confession.
As for the jurors in question,Theisen argues transcripts of the trial show those jurors testified they'd try to hear the case with an open mind.
Ultimately, the effort to see this into an appeal process required many hours of work from all sides.
“This case with 28 hours of interrogation, plus the entire trial proceedings, pretrial, trial, etcetera and then getting in on a deal, working through everything," Hargett said. "Hundreds of hours of work for sure.”
Sometime in the next few months, these three judges will issue their opinions.
They could uphold the lower court's case and let the matter rest. They could agree Keepers deserves a retrial. They might even say mistakes were made in the 2018 trial, but that they wouldn't have affected the outcome of this case.
Hargett said they might even refer this appeal to the entire appellate court or send it up to Virginia's Supreme Court.
We reached out to the Attorney General's office for comment but they did not respond to our request.
We reached out to Lovell's family about Keepers' appeal. A family member told us in a statement:
"We as a family don’t think Natalie Keepers deserves a re-trial and we just want justice for our sweet Coley, we don’t want to have to re-live this trial all over again , we want to grieve in peace."