Prosecutors, defense giving closing arguments in 2010 murder of woman found in suitcase

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) Prosecutors in San Francisco today painted Lee Bell, the man accused of killing Pearla Louis, placing her body into a suitcase and throwing it into the Bay, as a "predator of women."

"This man is a cunning predator of women who lives on the margins of society," Assistant District Attorney Michael Swart said in closing arguments at Bell's murder trial.

Defense attorneys, however, dismissed the prosecution case as based "almost entirely on speculation."

Louis, a 52-year-old San Francisco resident, was reported missing by her family on May 17, 2010.

Her body was discovered the next morning, naked, badly beaten and curled up inside a large suitcase that washed up near the Embarcadero and Folsom Street. The medical examiner determined that she had suffered 30 bleeding injuries and died of strangulation.

Bell, 55, was Louis' boyfriend and the last person she was seen alive with on May 16, at the hotel where he was staying, Swart said. He was speaking angrily to her at the time, according to witness testimony.

The case against Bell is circumstantial, but includes DNA evidence on the handle of the suitcase, video showing him retrieving a large suitcase similar to the one Louis was found in, as well as a history of domestic
violence involving both Louis and other women.

Swart emphasized that history in his closing arguments today, dwelling on testimony about Bell's attacks on two other women prior to Louis.

Louis herself told medical personnel on several occasions that her repeated injuries, which included signs of choking, as well as broken ribs and bleeding to the brain, were inflicted by Bell, Swart said.

And in the weeks leading up to Louis's death, Bell issued threats and made repeated phone calls to the hospice facility where she was living, demanding to see her, because he was "losing his power and grip" over her, Swart said.

"It wasn't a matter of if with Lee Bell, it was a matter of when," Swart said.

Defense attorney Malcolm Smith, however, said the prosecution's case had "gigantic holes," and accused police of failing to chase down leads or investigate the case thoroughly because they had already decided Bell was the suspect.

"If the trial was fair we would not have started with the first week being about domestic violence instead of about the facts of the case," Smith said.

Problems with the case, according to Smith, include the lack of injuries found on Bell, who was arrested June 3 but had been in custody since May 21 on an unrelated probation violation.

In her struggle to loosen her attacker's death grip, Louis gouged her own neck with her fingernails, but Bell had no such injuries, Smith said.

In addition, Smith noted that there were no noise complaints at the Harcourt Hotel, where Bell was staying, on the night the murder is thought to have occurred, and showed video images that he said demonstrated
the suitcase Bell was seen with was not the same one Louis was found in.

He also cast doubt on the strength of the DNA evidence, noting that three experts had reached different conclusions, with at least one of them deciding the DNA was of too poor quality to make a match.

"The case doesn't even make sense," Smith said. "All you have is profiling. There's no evidence Lee Bell committed this crime."

Bell has shown a propensity for outbursts in court, and began today by speaking directly to Judge Carol Yaggy, as Swart began his closing arguments.

"Your honor, none of the evidence was submitted about what the victim was into that got her killed," he protested.

Yaggy cautioned Bell that he needed to stay silent if he wanted to remain in court, and he sat silently through the remainder of the day.

Bell remains in custody and is being held without bail. 

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