A jury found a South Florida man guilty of second-degree murder on Tuesday in the killing of his adoptive mother.
Gerard A. Lopes, 23, had faced a charge of premeditated murder in the death of 43-year-old Natalie Belmonte. Authorities said he raped her, and her bludgeoned body was found in a marsh near their Pembroke Pines home in July 2011.
The Belmonte family held hands waiting for the verdict. After it was read, defense attorney Jose Reyes said he plans to appeal it shortly after sentencing on Oct. 10.
"We're happy with the verdict. We are going to go up on appeal. The next step is to motion for a new trial," said Reyes, who was pleased with the verdict because his client had been charged with premeditated murder.
Prosecutors had claimed Lopes, who pleaded not guilty, sexually assaulted his adoptive mother before killing her. An autopsy showed that semen found in Belmonte matched Lopes’ DNA, but Lopes’ attorneys argued it was not relevant because the sexual relationship was consensual.
Police said security video from a neighbor’s house showed Belmonte and Lopes, who was 21 at the time of his 2011 arrest, leaving in the same car and stopping at a Walgreens before heading to a party.
The car returned with both individuals around 2:48 a.m. A short time later, Lopes is seen dragging a bag across the driveway and loading bags into the trunk. Belmonte's body would be found three days later near their Pembroke Pines home. Lopes' clothing was found in a dumpster with Belmonte's blood on it.
Belmonte's sister Michaela Teixeira had said: "There's absolutely no way she had a consensual sexual relationship with her son."
Reyes said, "There is no evidence of ill will."
The defense had proposed that perhaps a scorned boyfriend had killed the vicitm.
"[Lopes'] story from the beginning has was that he didn't remember the night. That he had been drinking too much. That's why we postulated that someone else could have killed her in the middle of the night. That's the theory we were going for, for not guilty. They rejected that, but they also rejected the first-degree [conviction]," said Reyes.
A first-degree murder conviction would have carried a mandatory life sentence. Lopes could still face up to life imprisonment, however.
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