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Police Blotter: Teenage murderers convicted through IM logs

E-mail, IMs used as evidence against teen and her boyfriend, who murdered her mother after she discouraged them from dating each other.

Police Blotter is a weekly report on the intersection of technology and the law.

What: A teenage girl, her boyfriend, and a mutual friend jointly murder girl's mother, who was opposed to the relationship.

When: California's Court of Appeal, Fourth District, rules on June 8.

Outcome: Convictions upheld, based in part on a series of incriminating e-mails and instant messages.

What happened, according to court documents:
Natalie DeMola seemed like an average 16-year-old at Centennial High School in Corona, Calif., a city in Riverside County southeast of Los Angeles. She was on the swim team, had been dating a boy, Terry Bell, 17, for about six months, and had frequent arguments with her mother.

But DeMola wasn't exactly average: After one incident with her mother, who spotted her and her boyfriend at a Carl's Jr. restaurant and dragged her home, she began plotting revenge. DeMola, Bell, and mutual friend Christopher Long, 17, started talking about "torturing" her mother, starving her, spanking her, pulling her hair, and cutting her and putting lemon juice on the cuts.

Then they actually put their plan into action. Long would later testify that DeMola and Bell pleaded with him to serve as a kind of co-hit man. "She's getting in the way of me and Natalie," Long testified that Bell said. Long also claimed that DeMola told him: "I don't like my mom and she always beats me."

On April 10, 2001, around 6 p.m., Bell showed up at Long's house with some walkie-talkies. They drove to DeMola's home and waited outside. After hearing from DeMola on the walkie-talkie, Bell put on a mask and the two entered the house with a key they had been given.

Bell punched DeMola's mother, Kim, in the face and repeatedly hit her. Long threw items, including a radio and a bottle of water, around to make it look like the house was ransacked. Long claims that Natalie DeMola said: "Finish her off." He said he refused to directly participate in the assault and went into the garage, but came back in time to see Bell drop a lamp on the victim's head.

Natalie DeMola drove them home in the back seat of a Nissan Xterra, and they discarded their shoes and incriminating clothing in a drain. They might have gotten away with it, except that DeMola ran a stop sign and broadsided a pickup truck.

DeMola drove away, returned to the accident scene a few minutes later without any passengers, and told police that her house was being robbed by masked men and that she never had any passengers in the car. But the cops' suspicions were raised when the husband and wife in the pickup truck insisted to police that there had been two men in the back--and DeMola denied it. Not helping DeMola was the fact that the Ford F-250 was driven by a credible witness: an investigator with the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

When police arrived at DeMola's house, they found Kim DeMola unconscious in a pool of blood. There were bloody handprints indicating that she had tried to escape the home through the sliding glass door in the den and the downstairs bathroom window. No fingerprints were found, and there was evidence that the assailants used gloves.

Kim DeMola never regained consciousness. She had been, in the words of the court, "savagely beaten," with bruises and scrapes all over her face, hands, legs and back. She had a broken nose, a broken jaw, broken ribs and a skull fracture (possibly caused by the impact of the lamp base) that ultimately proved fatal.

Police arrested Bell on January 17, 2002, and found the DeMolas' missing .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol, $1,180 in cash, a mask and a walkie-talkie in his apartment. Long was arrested around the same time.

What makes this case relevant to Police Blotter is that detectives unearthed a series of e-mail and instant-message exchanges between the then-teenagers and used them as evidence in the trial. In them, Bell referred to himself as a potential murderer and said he would do anything for DeMola, including "kill'n for you."

A state jury eventually found DeMola and Bell guilty of first-degree murder and they were sentenced to life without parole. Long was convicted of first-degree murder (without an enhancement for torture that the others received) and was sentenced to 25 years to life.

A California appeals court on June 8 rejected their appeals, saying "we find no prejudicial error," though it did adjust a fine levied on DeMola and Bell.

Excerpts from the e-mail and instant-messaging conversations used as evidence, as cleaned up by the court for readability:
January 8, 2001, from Bell to DeMola: "... I don't know how to get into the conversation with my mom ... i'm gone tell her that I'm not going to Winter Formal ... cuz you're not going, cuz you're mom doesn't want you to see me n-e-more, cuz she doesn't allow you to have a boyfriend, and she's been hearing that you're my girlfriend, and you are, but you never told her ... i'm going to tell her your mom doesn't want you seeing, or talk'n to me, and that she said if i try to, then she's going to put out an order on me."

January 9, 2001, from DeMola to Bell: "i cannot call u n-e more. my mom said that she can tell all of the numbers i call. so if you want (to) talk to me, you have to call me. she is letting me go with u 2 winter formal, but that is it. i can't go n-e-where with you other than that .... she doesn't want me and you together all the time. everything that s(h)e is doing to hurt me will all come back on her."

Unknown date, between DeMola and Bell:
Bell: i thought (your mom) was nice at first but she threatened me , hits you, put'n you down as if she don't care about you and then getdislike every and n-e-body that tries to correct her.
DeMola: it's ok.
Bell: If you don't ever wanna see her again just let me know cuz you already know I'll do n-e-thing for you.
Bell: and I just want you to be happy.
DeMola: i don't need to be happy life wasn't meant to be joyful.
Bell: yeah it was ... and I know that the only reason you're never happy is cuz of her. ... i'm not even gone do nuthin to her unless you want me to cuz God will take care of her. ... I just hopes that she doesn't hurt or get n-e-body hurt b-4-she's taken care of .

February 6, 2001, 2:20 a.m., from Bell to DeMola: "If n-e-thing was to happen to you, and then sumthin was to happen to me, and sumthin will happen, cuz of the way I'll be, ... you'll be in Heaven, But I'll pro(bably) (b)e in hell, cuz Murders don't get to go to Heaven. Even though I believe in God, and everthing, but for the s--- that I'm gone do, I prob. want be going to heaven. I'll probably be done broke 6 or 7 out of the 10 Commandments."

February 18, 2001, from Bell to DeMola: "... I'll do n-e-thing for you, I mean anything all you have to do is let me know what it is, ... from lie'n for you, to kill'n for you. (Y)our mom seriously haves problems, and I wouldn('t) (h)esitate to help her with her problems, cuz she seriously haves issues. You already know that I'm down for whatever, and I'll do n-e-thing when it comes to you. Cuz I don't want n-e-body hurting you.... I think that you'll be better off with just you and your Dad, you need to see if it is someway that you can make that happen.... But I'm bout to call up Chris, cuz I might have something that I might have to do."