VALLEJO — For more than a decade, Lonnie J. Kerley, 53, likely believed he had gotten away with murder.
Danna L. Dever, his girlfriend and the mother of their daughter, disappeared in June 1996. A jury trial for Kerley that started in October, more than two months ago, ended Wednesday with Kerley found guilty of second-degree murder.
The long, painful journey for justice for Dever’s family spanned nearly 17 years. It began with a decade of not knowing what had happened to their loved one, who they believed would never just walk away from her beloved 9-year-old daughter, as Kerley claimed Dever had done.
The initial police investigation into Dever’s disappearance began with scrutiny of Kerley, largely because he did not report Dever missing until six weeks after he said she just walked out the front door of their home. The investigation went cold and even though Dever’s body was found that summer, it went unidentified until 2007.
In 1996, farmworkers found a woman’s badly decomposed body in a ditch alongside rural pastureland south of Dixon. When authorities learned the body was Dever, the case was reopened with Kerley as the focus of the investigation. Kerley had little to tell police, sticking with the story that Dever had just walked away and the case went cold for a second time.
In 2010, a pair of cold-case investigators reopened the Dever case for a third time. Kerley was arrested and in August 2011 prosecutors got a grand jury indictment against Kerley on a second-degree murder charge.
Prosecutors believe Kerley likely beat and killed Dever at their home and possibly crushed her with the lid of a tanning bed at their home before he loaded her body into his car and dumped it a short distance from a motorcycle track where Kerley raced as a teenager.
The jury trial included testimony from Kerley’s parents, who both said they had watched Dever simply walk out the door of their son’s home and disappear. Prosecutors said Kerley’s parents were both lying. Kerley did not take the witness stand.
Jurors deliberated the case for two days in December before the court started a protracted holiday and work furlough period of nearly two weeks that ended Wednesday.
Judge Allan P. Carter ordered Kerley, who has been in jail without bail since his arrest, to return to court Jan. 31 for sentencing.
Kerley faces a sentence of 15 years to life, according to prosecutor Krishna Abrams, who along with Deputy District Attorney Julie Underwood, garnered the conviction.
Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.