A former Virginia Tech student has pleaded no contest in the 2016 killing of a 13-year-old girl.
David Eisenhauer entered his plea Friday to all three charges against him in the stabbing death of Nicole Lovell: first-degree murder, abduction and concealing a body.
The plea came on the fourth day of testimony in his trial.
A plea of no contest means a defendant acknowledges there's enough evidence to convict him, but doesn't admit he committed the crime. The plea has the same effect as a guilty plea.
Sentencing is scheduled for May 22 and May 23.
Lovell's mother, Tammy Weeks, hugged prosecutor Mary Pettitt after Eisenhauer entered his pleas and was found guilty by Judge Robert Turk. The judge told Eisenhauer he faces up to life, plus 15 years.
"I was blessed to be Nicole's mother, to be her friend for 13 years,'' Weeks later told reporters as she choked back tears. "We fought every fight together... She was a great and beautiful girl.''
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During opening statements, Eisenhauer's lawyer attempted to shift the blame to his alleged accomplice, Natalie Keepers, who has been charged as an accessory and is scheduled to go on trial in September.
Keepers told police she and Eisenhauer talked about various ways to kill the girl and admitted she later helped dump her body in North Carolina after Eisenhauer stabbed her. She insisted that she wasn't present for the actual killing, but Eisenhauer's lawyers suggested she was there and could have been the one who killed Lovell.
Prosecutors told jurors that Nicole and Eisenhauer had been communicating through social media for months and had met at least once in person before Nicole climbed out her bedroom window for a "secret date'' with him just after midnight on Jan. 27, 2016.
Prosecutors showed jurors a piece of paper with Lovell's address on it, found in Eisenhauer's dorm room. They also presented evidence that Eisenhauer's DNA was found under Lovell's fingernails and her blood was found in the trunk of his car.
After Eisenhauer entered his pleas, Pettitt told reporters she is glad the case has been resolved, but said the justice system is "incapable of healing this loss for Nicole's family, Nicole's friends or the community.''
"We all suffer with the loss of this little girl,'' Pettitt said. "I do hope that we have been able to do the best that the justice system can do to provide some resolution and some justice.''
Blacksburg Police Chief Anthony Wilson said Eisenhauer's plea does not mean anyone won the case."Truly, if we had won, we wouldn't be in this room and Nicole would be at Blacksburg Middle School where she belongs,'' Wilson said.
During Eisenhauer's trial, Weeks testified that she discovered her daughter was missing Jan. 27, 2016, when she found a nightstand pushed up against her bedroom door and the window open. Prosecutors said Nicole climbed out her window to meet Eisenhauer. Her disappearance touched off a massive search.
Her mother testified that Nicole had a liver transplant when she was 10 months old and needed to take anti-rejection medication twice a day.
Nicole's body was found three days later, just over the state line in North Carolina. A medical examiner testified that she had 14 stab wounds, including a lethal wound to her neck.
Blacksburg, a town of about 45,000 tucked between the Blue Ridge and Alleghany mountains, has dealt with tragedy before, notably the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 that left 32 people dead.
Lovell's killing hit the town and Virginia Tech hard.
"To have a middle school student murdered is horrific. It had an impact on the students who knew her in middle school. And the accused were students at Virginia Tech, and so, of course, that had a very horrific impact on the university community."
Kristi Snyder, administrator of the Rainbow Riders Child Care Centers in Blacksburg, said parents were stunned by Lovell's killing.
"It really shook us to the core," she said. "The fear of, how could this happen to someone in our small community? It was overwhelming."
Keepers' trial is scheduled to begin in September. Keepers, of Laurel, Maryland, has pleaded not guilty.