PDT Staff Writer
David Gerald, on trial for the murder of Felipe Lopez, was convicted Thursday after four hours of jury deliberation and sentenced to spend the remainder of his life in prison.
“In my 18 years as a judge, this is the most heinous crime I have ever seen,” Scioto County Common Pleas Judge William T. Marshall said. He then pronounced sentence on Gerald who had just been found guilty of aggravated murder.
Gerald, 37, of 1021 Center St., in Wheelersburg, was convicted after having been accused by Assistant Scioto County Prosecutor Pat Apel of being the man who took a hatchet to the back of the head of Felipe Lopez, 24, of West Portsmouth, four to five times, before he was stabbed six times, then burned to death in a truck in Franklin Furnace. Apel told the jury Lopez was still alive when he was set on fire.
Gerald will spend the rest of his life behind bars. A jury deliberated for around four hours Thursday and returned with a verdict of guilty in the death of Felipe Lopez, 34, in March. Both sides gave closing arguments, and at 11 a.m., Judge William T. Marshall charged the jury, listing all 10 counts to be considered. Those included two counts of aggravated murder; one count of murder; aggravated arson; arson; three counts of tampering with evidence; kidnapping, and conspiracy to aggravated murder. In the end, Gerald was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole plus 29 years consecutively.
Gerald was the second person convicted the the death of Lopez. Raymond Linkous was convicted in September. He too was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, plus 26 years.
“The picture of this case is as the statute says the worst sort,” Apel said prior to sentencing. “There is no doubt this is the worst level of offense. If you look at the picture of the two cases. We see that this defendant hit Felipe Lopez with that hatchet, and Lopez was unaware of anything.”
When the jury announced “guilty” on all 10 counts, some of which merged, Lopez’s wife, Kelly Lopez, and members of his family, seated on the front row of the gallery breathed a sigh of relief. During the trial, photos of Lopez’s burned body were shown to the jury, and were viewed by members of his family. Apel pointed out the place in the back of his head where the hatchet had been used.
“It is never a pleasant feel,” Apel told the Daily Times. “This is not a pleasant matter. It’s a time of seriousness and great tragedy. This is a tragedy, not just for our community, but for the defendant in this case and the victim’s family that have come up here, so it’s a sad time when something like this happens. All we can say is, the verdict is just.”
“This was a brutal murder,” Assistant Prosecutor Julie Hutchinson said. “A witness testified that Gerald boasted that he slit Lopez’s head open like a watermelon. Lopez was hit with the hatchet, stabbed repeatedly in the chest. The stab wounds indicated that Lopez was not resisting but was immobilized before he was stabbed. Then, while he was still alive, he was soaked with gasoline and lit on fire.” According to Apel, Gerald referred to himself as “the righteous right hand of God,” to a fellow inmate while being held in the Scioto County Jail.
The third person facing murder charges in the case, Thomas Steinhauer, 47, of Portsmouth, is scheduled to go on trial in November.
The Sheriff’s Office is continuing its investigation into missing evidence in the case. According to sources, a bag containing the hatchet, the knife, and a bloody jacket disappeared before the case came to court.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at email@example.com