Man found guilty of murdering adoptive mother
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (WSVN) -- A Broward jury has found a man accused of sexually assaulting and killing his adoptive mother guilty of second degree murder after five hours of deliberation, Tuesday.
"The defendant is found guilty of the lesser crime of murder in the second degree," said the jury foreperson as she read the verdict in the trial of 23-year-old Gerard Lopes Belmonte.
According to defense attorneys, their client was originally charged with first-degree murder, but prosecutors were unable to prove premeditation in the death of his adoptive mother, Natalie Belmonte, who was also his first cousin. In addition, the medical examiner said there was no official cause of death for the victim.
"We're happy with the verdict," said defense attorney Jose Reyes. "We're going to go up on appeal. The next step is a motion for a new trial. We feel there is plenty of error in the case."
To the jury, the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Lopes violently killed his adoptive mother on July 2011, beating her to a pulp and ripping off parts of her scalp. Police found Belmonte's body in a swamp near her Pembroke Pines home. Prosecutors argued the defendant raped the victim, citing that authorities found semen inside Belmonte's body, deposited there around the time of her death.
During closing arguments Monday, Reyes attempted to persuade jurors that there was room for reasonable doubt in the prosecution's case, including the possibility that the victim had been engaging in consensual sex with Lopes. Prosecutors were not able to prove sexual battery in the case.
"We feel the other side started the case strategically, getting rid of my co-counsel in the first day of the trial," said Reyes, referring to prosecutors' request to have a fellow attorney testify after a police officer overheard her talking to the defendant.
Lopes faces up to life in prison. Reyes, however, said he believes there's a chance the sentence will be less severe. "We feel confident that the case will come back and re-litigated," said Reyes.
The victim's family left the courtroom through a side stairwell shortly after the verdict was read. They declined to comment.
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