PUEBLO, Colo. — CBI Investigator Kevin Torres remembers it like yesterday. In September 2016, a stressed and worried mother, Laura Saxton, reached out to him, hoping to reinvigorate the case of her missing daughter, Kelsie Schelling.
Schelling was eight weeks pregnant when her friends and family last heard from her on February 4, 2013, when she visited the likely father of her unborn child. That man, Donthe Lucas, was convicted for her murder and sentenced to life in prison on Monday. Torres is largely credited for compiling the case to arrest him.
“He was the first person who listened to me like I wasn’t a crazy person,” said Laura Saxton, Kelsie’s mother, “He gave me hope when I didn’t have any.”
Saxton’s hope was for answers. Even though Kelsie’s remains have never been found, she’s long since accepted her daughter’s death. She filed a lawsuit against the Pueblo Police Department in the years after 2013 as the frustration grew from a lack of answers.
The lawsuit was dismissed, and shortly after, Torres took the reins of the case, meeting Saxton in September 2016.
“It was just a special bond that we formed. It’s hard to explain,” Torres said, “It’s definitely a person, emotional bond. I’m very grateful that our paths crossed and God took us to this moment.”
In closing arguments, lead prosecutor Michelle Chostner ensured the jury had a clear understanding of the time Kelsie’s killer had to get rid of evidence or to clean things up. The prosecution asserts Kelsie was killed sometime between midnight the night of Feb. 4 and before 3 a.m. the morning of Feb. 5. The first search warrant was executed at the suspect’s home on Feb. 14—a period of 11 days, or 264 hours.
“You heard from Detective Kevin Torres how important the first 48 hours of an investigation are, and this defendant had 264,” Chostner told the jury in closing arguments.
For that reason, little DNA evidence was presented. There were some clothes, Kelsie’s car, and the defendant’s backyard, but the key pieces of evidence were cell phone data.
Text messages showed the emotionally abusive relationship Kelsie was in. Some of her friends testified to the physical abuse, and cell phone data showed Kelsie’s phone was in the same area as her killer’s in the days after authorities believed she had been killed.
“Circumstantial evidence is every bit as good as any other kind of evidence,” said Jeff Chostner, the district attorney for Pueblo County, “We were able to put this case together through circumstantial evidence. As difficult as it was, it’s not impossible. Thankfully I had a great team.
Michelle Chostner prosecuted the case alongside senior prosecutor Kyle McCarthy, and Alex Baker, an Assistant Attorney General in the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.
Chostner says there was more evidence to work with in 2017 versus 2013, and enough that gave him the confidence to press charges. Though it was likely frustrating and painful for Kelsie’s family, he believes it led to a successful conviction.
“I have found that if you do it the right way, justice finds its own way. It reaches the surface,” he said.
For Laura’s part, the case doesn’t end with the verdict. She still wants to bring Kelsie home and give her the burial she feels her daughter deserves.
“I never want to give up on trying to bring her home.” she said.