CHRISTIANSBURG, VA. — David Eisenhauer, then 18, crossed his arms and leaned over a table as FBI Special Agent Travis Witt questioned him about the January 2016 disappearance of Nicole Lovell.
The interview, captured on video and played in court this week, came as a huge search was underway for the 13-year-old girl. Evidence gathered so far had led police to Eisenhauer.
The then-Virginia Tech student explained he had been messaging a girl in an anonymous online chat room in mid-December 2015, and then through Kik, another social media platform. He didn’t know her name and she said she was 16 or 17, he said.
By the end of January they agreed to meet up, but when he arrived at her house, he told Witt he saw “someone who is maybe 11-years-old climb out of a window,” and thought “uh uh not for me.” He eventually took off without her, and there was nothing sexual to their relationship, he said.
“I deleted Kik, Snapchat everything I had she possibly could have access to because I wanted nothing to do with that,” he said.
Later in the interview Witt said, “tell us where she is.”
“I told you, I do not know where she is,” Eisenhauer responded. He eventually grew frustrated and, as he burst out of the room, said: “I’m done. I’m calling a lawyer.”
The almost hour-long interview was played for the jury in Montgomery County Circuit Court Tuesday in the trial for Eisenhauer, who is accused of fatally stabbing Nicole and dumping her body across the border in North Carolina. The January 2016 crime shocked the Blacksburg and Virginia Tech communities and a crowd gathered on the border of Virginia Tech’s campus two years ago for a vigil in Nicole’s honor.
Eisenhauer has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, abduction and concealing a dead body.
While the prosecution argued that the evidence shows Eisenhauer killed Nicole because he was worried about his relationship with an underage girl, the defense tried to shift the blame to Eisenhauer’s friend and classmate Natalie Keepers, who is charged with accessory to murder before the fact and concealing a dead body, and is scheduled to go on trial in September.
“Quite frankly,” Eisenhauer told Witt during the interview, “I haven’t done anything, I have nothing to hide and I strongly believe the truth will set you free.”
Defense attorney John Lichtenstein told jurors that Keepers “planned this event” and “was at the scene of this murder,” bringing into question: “Who actually committed this murder?”
John Robertson, an attorney representing Keepers, declined to comment on the defense’s statements.
Several law enforcement officials testified Wednesday about evidence gathered in the investigation, including disinfectent wipes, a shovel and blood found in Eisenhauer’s car. The trial is expected to continue into next week.
Montgomery County, Va., Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt told the jurors in her opening statements that Eisenhauer’s DNA was found under Nicole’s fingernails and her blood was found in the trunk of his car.
She said Nicole, a seventh grader, was self conscious about her medical complications that left her with a scar on her neck and stomach, but that January night, she had “a secret date.” Nicole pushed her nightstand in front of her door and planned to sneak out the window to meet the college guy she had been messaging online for months. Pettitt also said the two had seen each other at least once before.
That same night, Pettitt said, Eisenhauer has “a problem and his problem is Nicole Lovell.”
He had spent 30 minutes the day before, the prosecutor said, doing Internet searches of things like “Knock out drugs”; “How long does it take to burn a body”; and “How does the tv serial killer Dexter get rid of bodies.”
Eisenhauer’s parents sat in the courtroom as Pettitt said he and Keepers had talked about switching out Nicole’s medication to cyanide pills, drove around looking for the area to carry out the murder, and went to Walmart to buy a garden shovel.
Shortly after 1 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 27, Pettitt said Eisenhauer arrived at Nicole’s apartment to pick her up, before he took her into the woods and “coldly and ruthlessly stabs Nicole, not once, not twice, but 14 times, he stabs her in the chest and then her throat.”
Lichtenstein told the jurors that the Commonwealth’s evidence tries to pin the murder on Eisenhauer in a “circumstantial way.” Instead, he said, Keepers was “exhilarated” and “excited” about this murder. She admitted to police, he said, everything about her involvement in the case with the “sole exception” of being at the scene.
Keepers had a fascination with a demonic fiction author, he said, and was “deeply motivated to commit this.” While Eisenhauer was only interested in wiping clean the data on his phone showing communications with Nicole, Keepers wanted a “more permanent solution,” Lichtenstein said. In Keepers’s dorm room, he said, police found Nicole’s Minions blanket, now bloody, along with other belongings from Nicole.
This behavior, along with a shovel with Keepers’s bloody fingerprints, is enough reasonable doubt for a not-guilty verdict, he told the jurors.
“Could this have happened another way?” he asked.
In the 2016 video interview, Eisenhauer told Witt he was “concerned” he would be named as a suspect in the missing person case.
“Given that she’s a 13-year-old girl who is missing, I mean, if my name’s associated with an ongoing investigation I’m not going to be able to do anything for the rest of my life.”
The prosecution’s first witness Tuesday was Nicole’s mother who wore blue, her daughter’s favorite color. Other family and friends , also dressed in blue, sat in court.
Nicole was supposed to go to school the morning of Jan. 27, so Tammy Weeks went to her daughter’s room to give Nicole her medicine, she testified Tuesday. When she pushed open the door, she felt a rush of cold air. Nicole wasn’t there and the window was open.
Weeks said she rushed to her truck and started calling Nicole’s phone, which went to voice mail. She checked with friends and a neighbor and when she couldn’t find Nicole, she called police.
“When was the next time you saw Nicole?” Pettitt asked.
As her eyes teared up, she replied: “In her coffin.”