Fla. Alleges Sexual Assault in Murder of Adoptive Mother Natalie Belmonte

Gerard Lopes is accused of murdering Belmonte, 43, in July 2011

A two-year-old murder mystery involving a South Florida man accused of raping and killing his adoptive mother is headed to trial on Monday.

Gerard Lopes faces murder charges in connection to the death of 43-year-old Natalie Belmonte, whose bludgeoned body was found in a marsh near their Pembroke Pines home in July 2011.

The state claims that Lopes, who has pleaded not guilty, sexually assaulted his adoptive mother before killing her. In a hearing held Wednesday, state prosecutors sought approval to introduce DNA evidence they say shows the motive was sexual assault.

An autopsy showed that semen found in Belmonte matched Lopes’ DNA, but Lopes’ attorneys argue it's not relevant because the sexual relationship was consensual.

The state called a DNA expert, Dr. Martin Tracey, to the stand in Wednesday's hearing. Tracey testified the level of integrity of the DNA found shows the semen was deposited at the time of the murder.

"We know from other kinds of studies that I'm familiar with and teach at the university, the survival time for semen is about 3 to 5 days,” Tracey said.

Police said security video from a neighbor’s house shows 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 returns 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 has pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge.

During Wednesday's motion in limiting hearing, prosecutors called Belmonte's sister Michaela Teixeira to the stand and asked point blank about the possibility of a consensual sexual relationship.

"There's absolutely no way she had consensual sexual relationship with her son,” she said.

To give the statement punch, prosecutors detailed a normal, loving mother-son relationship showing Teixeira letters between the two, birthday and Mother's Day cards. Teixeira read from a card – one that if Lopes is proven guilty – could serve as an eerie message from the grave.

"Gerry I'm very proud of the man that you are becoming. Always remember the choices you make today determine the outcome of your future,” she said, reading from the card.

At the hearing Broward Circuit Judge Matthew Destry ordered two prerequisites. If the state can establish a sexual relationship has serious negative consequences on Lopes, and secondly that the semen was deposited at or near the time of death, he'll admit the evidence. He also warned that if the state presents the argument into opening statements, but fails to prove relevance, he'll grant a mistrial.

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