Charges Against Lee Changed in West Baton Rouge

Major new developments today in the case against accused serial killer Derrick Todd Lee. On Friday morning, Lee pled not guilty in a West Baton Rouge court to the murder of Addis resident and LSU student Geralyn De Soto.

The surprise is the charges against Lee - he is no longer being accused of first degree murder. Prosecutors have downgraded the charges against Lee to second degree murder. Originally, Lee was indicted on first degree murder charges for Geralyn's death. But today, her family members and prosecutors said they're going after Lee for second degree murder only.

21-year-old Geralyn De Soto was brutally murdered in her mobile home on January 14, 2002. Her attacker slit her throat and beat her repeatedly. Although prosecutors originally wanted first degree murder to be the charge, they now say they have a stronger case with the second degree charges. Plus second degree murder is much simpler to prosecute - since Lee can not receive the death penalty.

Many of the issues that could hold up Derrick Todd Lee's first degree murder trial in East Baton Rouge now don't exist in West Baton Rouge. This trial is expected to go forward much faster and easier than the one in East Baton Rouge.  Prosecutors say the second degree murder charge eliminates many of the reasons lee's public defenders have to appeal and delay.

Prosecutor Tony Clayton said, "all that stuff about funding and letting him see a doctor to find out if he ever fell on his head as a kid- we've taken all that from him." Now he'll have to stand trial before the people. Second degree murder trials are done here everyday. This gets rid of a lot of the dilatory stuff in my opinion."

Not only is funding now a much smaller issue for West Baton Rouge, but Lee will not need a psychological profile for this trial. Prosectors also only need ten out of twelve jurors to say Lee's guilty of second degree murder. For a guilty verdict in a first degree murder trial, all twelve jurors must return a unanimous decision. Lee could get life without parole for a second degree conviction.

The courtroom saw a little extra drama when Lee apparently refused to submit to another DNA sample in West Baton Rouge. Prosecutors had to show presiding judge Robin Free a relatively new law saying any person charged with a felony must submit a DNA sample when booked into jail. After reading the law, Free ordered Lee to allow officers to swab him. Lee then peacefully went along with the test.

More motions will be heard in the West Baton Rouge court on March 4, and a trial date may possibly be set at that time.