A Douglas County jury on Tuesday convicted a Lawrence man of second-degree murder and three other charges in the beating death of his girlfriend last summer.
Christopher Belone, 36, was found guilty of the most severe murder charge he faced for striking Linda Begay, 37, in the stomach with a coffee table leg on July 29 at the Gaslight Village mobile home park, 1900 W. 31st St. Begay died days later in the hospital from an abdominal infection resulting from blunt trauma.
"(When the verdict was read) I just thought of Linda actually, to tell you the truth. Justice was definitely done," said Trent Krug, a Douglas County assistant district attorney.
Jurors deliberated nearly six hours Tuesday after they heard closing arguments in the seven-day trial.
Prosecutors said Belone went to the trailer of Frank Mallonee and beat Begay in a fit of jealousy when he found her drunk and passed out in a bedroom that afternoon.
Defense attorney Greg Robinson told jurors that investigators focused too heavily on Belone and made errors in ignoring evidence that included Mallonee having motive to harm Begay because she resisted his sexual advances.
Belone testified in his own defense Monday. He said he found Begay in Mallonee's trailer, and that she attacked him when he tried to take her home. He said she was hit in the nose during the scuffle but that he never struck or stabbed her in the stomach.
Robinson said he was disappointed with the verdict and the severity of the conviction because prosecutors contended Belone's action was committed in a jealous rage.
"I would have thought that manslaughter would have been the max they'd have come back with," Robinson said.
Robinson also said he would take time to determine whether he would appeal the convictions.
Belone and his family members showed little emotion when the verdict was read. Some of Begay's family members had attended the trial earlier, but they were not in the courtroom Tuesday.
Krug said despite Robinson's criticism of police throughout the trial, an audio recording of a police interview with Begay conducted at the hospital hours after the attack was the most crucial piece of evidence. She identified Belone as her attacker, and Krug said she consistently and accurately described the situation, which complemented other evidence.
"We'll be forever grateful to (Lawrence police officer) Anthony Brixius for doing that," said Eve Kemple, another assistant district attorney who helped prosecute the case.
Presiding juror Mary Garcia said jurors had other evidence to consider that conflicted with Belone's testimony.
"The most convincing evidence was the photos of Linda. They spoke volumes," she said.
Prosecutors also hailed it as a victory for domestic violence victims.
"We are not going to accept domestic violence," said Kemple, who primarily handles domestic violence cases. "This is hopefully a wake-up call for other victims. We are pleased the jury took it very seriously."
Begay and Belone, who have a young son, had a violent history together, but Judge Jack Murphy allowed jurors to hear only evidence related to the July 29 event.
"Christopher Belone thought he could get away with just one more beating of Linda. This time he killed her," Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said.
Murphy will sentence Belone at 4 p.m. May 14. Prosecutors think he will face 48 years in prison. He also was convicted of kidnapping, violating a protective order and obstructing the police investigation because he gave them a false name, birthday and Social Security number before being arrested.