GRETNA, La. - A jury Friday night found a Louisiana man guilty of killing and dismembering a stripper he lured from a New Orleans French Quarter bar along with his ex-girlfriend, a crime only discovered when pieces of her body washed ashore.
Terry Speaks and his ex-girlfriend, Margaret Sanchez, were charged with the second-degree murder of 22-year-old Jaren Lockhart, a gruesome killing in which prosecutors say the couple lured her from the club where she was working, killed her, cut her up and then drove the body parts to Mississippi where they dumped the pieces.
Lockhart's head, lower legs and left thigh washed up on Mississippi beaches in June 2012, triggering an investigation that eventually led authorities to Speaks and Sanchez. Sanchez's trial has not yet been scheduled.
Both were also charged with obstruction of justice for trying to derail investigators by dismembering the body, cutting tattoos from her skin and scrubbing down their apartment and Sanchez's vehicle.
Investigators were eventually able to identify Lockhart through a tattoo behind one ear and DNA.
The jury deliberated for two hours before finding Speaks guilty on the murder charge, which carries a mandatory life sentence, as well as obstruction and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Sentencing has been set for July 8.
Speaks showed little emotion as the verdict was read, just shaking his head a few times. He left the courtroom in handcuffs and carrying a thick sheaf of legal papers.
Lockhart's family expressed satisfaction but didn't make any remarks.
Defense lawyers declined to comment on the outcome.
Speaks initially tried to represent himself in the trial but after one day of cross-examining prosecution witnesses handed the case back to his attorneys. On the stand, he completely denied any role in her death.
"I never dismembered this woman," Speaks told jurors after taking the witness stand Friday.
Speaks said he and Sanchez last saw the victim after arranging for her to go to a party with a stranger named Nick.
Prosecutors say Speaks and Sanchez asked several French Quarter dancers to go with them for a private party early June 6, 2012. They say Lockhart was the only one who accepted.
Speaks insisted that Lockhart went off with the man named Nick and that was the last time he saw her. He testified that he later did not tell investigators about Nick, or about another man he supposedly let borrow his car for $50 in cash on the night of the killing, because he was concerned that he would be looked at as "contributing" to Lockhart's killing because he had arranged for her to go to the party with Nick.
"My thought is we talked this girl into doing this party," Speaks testified. "I felt guilty about talking her into going to this party that she did not return from."
Jefferson Parish Assistant District Attorney Doug Freese painted a portrait of Speaks as a serial liar who came up with stories to avoid conviction. Freese said Speaks made false statements to investigators when he was arrested six days after the slaying.
Evidence in the case includes security camera footage showing Speaks, Sanchez and the victim together. However, there was a lack of physical evidence linking the defendants to the crime.
"That's why I wanted to testify to tell what actually happened," Speaks said. "How can you have any evidence when we didn't do it?"
He acknowledged using an alias while living in New Orleans because he was wanted for a probation violation and he admitted misleading investigators because he didn't want to go back to prison. When authorities arrested him on June 12, he tried to flee because he had warrants for his arrest, he said, not because he had killed Lockhart.
Freese challenged Speaks on why he didn't tell investigators about Nick and the other man he supposedly let use his car on the night of the killing. Speaks said investigators didn't give him a chance to tell his side of the story and were determined that he was guilty.
The prosecution also relied on emails Speaks sent to Lockhart while he was in prison and testimony from an inmate who said Speaks told him he had done the killing.