updated 8/10/2004 7:29:16 PM ET 2004-08-10T23:29:16

A jury took less than two hours Tuesday to find a suspected serial killer guilty of second-degree murder in the January 2002 death of a 21-year-old woman.

Derrick Todd Lee, 35, faces a mandatory life sentence in the death of the woman, Geralyn DeSoto, and faces two first-degree murder charges carrying possible death sentences in other cases. Lee’s next trial, in the killing of Charlotte Murray Pace in May 2002, is scheduled to begin Sept. 13.

When the verdict was read, Lee was on his feet, leaning on a table. He did not react. His family stared straight ahead as the jury was polled. DeSoto’s mother and father broke down and cried.

Lee to appeal conviction
The defense said there would be an immediate appeal.

DeSoto was found in a pool of blood in the town of Addis in January 2002. Her death was not linked to Lee until after he had been arrested in May 2003 in connection with a string of five slayings that terrorized people for more than a year in an area from Baton Rouge to Lafayette.

Police eventually alleged that DNA evidence linked Lee to the slayings of seven women between April 1998 and March 2003.

The defense rested Tuesday after just three hours, never rebutting the DNA evidence but seeking to shift the focus to another suspect. Lee’s attorney, Tommy Thompson, presented five witnesses who portrayed the slain woman’s husband as an abusive spouse.

A DeSoto neighbor, Sandie Gautreaux, said Darren DeSoto once dragged Geralyn out of their mobile home by her hair. “He was beating her head onto the hood of a car because of cigarette ash,” Gautreaux said.

Also called were police detectives who had gathered evidence against Darren DeSoto and acknowledged that he had been a suspect.

However, the detectives also said DeSoto was cleared.

“I know what would be the popular verdict in this case. Everybody does. I’m asking you to be brave and courageous Americans,” Thompson asked the jury.

Prosecution witnesses included Lee’s own son, who identified his father’s boots and pocketknife, two pieces of evidence used against Lee.

The jury took an hour and 40 minutes to reach the verdict, with 11 jurors voting for conviction and one choosing not guilty. Ten guilty votes were required for conviction of second-degree murder.

Formal sentencing will be Monday.

Lee’s next trial, in the killing of Charlotte Murray Pace in May 2002, is scheduled to begin Sept. 13.

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