Kelsie Schelling Trial Preview and Painful Mysteries That Remain

A portrait of the late Kelsie Schelling.
A portrait of the late Kelsie Schelling. Family photo
On February 4, 2013, Kelsie Schelling, a 21-year-old Denver resident, disappeared shortly after learning she was pregnant.

Nearly eight years later, her whereabouts remain a mystery despite the November 2017 arrest of Donthe Lucas, her former boyfriend, whom she'd traveled to Pueblo to meet when she went missing. Although she is presumed dead, her body still hasn't been found. But at 8:30 a.m. today, January 25, after a long series of delays, jury selection begins in Pueblo Combined Court for Lucas's trial. He pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges in August 2018.

This morning, Kelsie's brother Colby shared his thoughts on the Help Find Kelsie Facebook page, which has served as the nexus for information about the search for answers since shortly after she vanished.

"Today is the start of the trial," he writes. "It’s hard to believe that after almost eight years this day has finally come. So many emotions are flooding through us right now: sorrow, fear, shock — but also hope. Mom and Dad have been warriors for you, Kels. They have been fighting for you since Day 1. And you wouldn’t imagine the amount of people that have supported us through the hardest days of our lives. Together, as a family and community, we’re still here for you. We haven’t forgotten about you — not even for a moment. We love you so much, sis."

Answers in the investigation have been agonizingly slow in coming. Ten days after Schelling vanished in 2013, her car, a Chevrolet Cruze, was located in the parking lot of St. Mary-Corwin hospital in Pueblo. The following month, the Pueblo Police Department put out photos showing shots of the car on February 5 and February 6 from somewhere else — the parking lot of an area Walmart. The images depicted a male getting into the car and driving it away.

Pueblo officers subsequently announced that they had looked for Schelling in various parts of the city using canines "specialized in searching for missing persons." But no breakthroughs emerged. Then, at an April news conference, Laura Saxton, Kelsie's mother, who has regularly spoken with Westword over the years, revealed new information about the pregnancy that motivated Schelling's drive to Pueblo, as well as details about her boyfriend.

According to her, Schelling had gotten confirmation of her pregnancy on the day she disappeared. Doctor's records confirmed that she was eight weeks pregnant, with the presumed father being Lucas, who played basketball for Northeastern Junior College.

"Cell-phone records show that Kelsie sent picture messages of her ultrasound pictures taken that day to family members and also to Donthe and his mother," Saxton said at the time. "Cell-phone records also show that Donthe asked Kelsie to come to Pueblo when she got off of work that night because he needed to speak with her in person.... We know that Kelsie made it to Pueblo and did meet up with Donthe. No one has seen or heard from her since."

Laura Saxton speaking about her missing daughter, Kelsie Schelling. - FOX21 VIA YOUTUBE
Laura Saxton speaking about her missing daughter, Kelsie Schelling.
Fox21 via YouTube
In the years that followed, Lucas continued to be the focus of the investigation, but little progress was made. According to Saxton, the situation improved "when the CBI [Colorado Bureau of Investigation] came on board and there was a total overhaul of the crimes-against-persons unit at the Pueblo Police Department. Basically, everyone from the chief down to the detectives that were over Kelsie's case were all new people. They came in, and that really changed the tone and the relationship between us."

The inquiry really began heating up in April 2017, when law enforcement officers excavated the backyard of Lucas's former residence, at 5113 Manor Ridge Drive in Pueblo; they dug up a field not far from the house the following month. Weeks later, the home was damaged by a fire investigated as possible arson. And a new series of searches was conducted in the week or two before Lucas was charged.

The accusations didn't speed up the gears of justice. When Saxton spoke to us in February 2020 in conjunction with Colorado Missing Persons Day, her frustration was palpable. "We're on our third delay," she told us. "The last one was due to the fact that one of Donthe's attorneys wanted off the case, so they added a new attorney — and, of course, the new attorney needed time to get up to date on the case. But it really doesn't matter what the reason is. We've been waiting for so long, and our feelings are really disregarded when these decisions are made."

At that time, the trial was set to start on May 5, and "I sure hope it happens," Saxton said, "because every delay is harder to take. It just takes a lot of preparation, and then when you get the rug pulled out from underneath you, it's devastating. Each time it happens, it sends me into a tailspin for a few days. There are definitely emotional and physical things that go on for me, because I've been doing this for so long. I'll feel more run down, and everything takes more of a toll than it used to."

Unfortunately, the May schedule was changed, and even the January 25 start date seemed tenuous as recently as last week, when Lucas's attorneys announced that they had discovered new evidence: a March 2020 Pueblo Police document that reportedly named another possible suspect. But this time, they didn't specifically ask 10th Judicial District Court Judge Thomas Flesher for a postponement, and he didn't offer one.

Last February, Saxton said she doubts Lucas will come clean. "I don't think he'll ever take the stand," she told us. "I've made it clear to the prosecution team that I'm very open to a plea deal as long as it brings Kelsie home. That's my main thing. I've addressed this over and over again, and I know probably not everyone agrees with it. Justice is important, and I would not want him to walk free for this. But I want to bring my girl home. I want to be able to go to the cemetery and bring her flowers. I have nothing like that right now. But I don't believe Donthe is ever going to let us know where she is. That's his last control over her, and he knows that's what I want the most. It's just another way for him to continue to torture me.

"I'm trying to stay healthy enough to make it through this trial," she continued. "I know I have to find the strength and keep the strength to make it through, because I know how hard it's going to be."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts