A California man who bashed his nursing instructor's skull in with a hammer in 2016 was convicted of first-degree murder Monday.
A defense attorney for 35-year-old Jackie Jerome Rogers, of Lennox, admitted during his opening statement that his client killed 36-year-old Lisa Marie Naegle on Dec. 18, 2016, but told jurors that it was a crime committed in the heat of passion by a man who lost control.
Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Allyson Ostrowski countered that the murder was premeditated.
Rogers is set to be sentenced Oct. 25.
Naegle was a registered nurse whose naked body was found buried in a shallow grave in the defendant's back yard in Lennox, near Los Angeles International Airport.
She was married, but defense attorney Jeremy Lessem said Naegle and the defendant had a sexual relationship and his client fell in love with the San Pedro woman, who was a contestant on the E! Entertainment Television series "Bridalplasty" in 2010.
Rogers used to help out in Naegle's classroom while taking classes to earn a nursing certificate. The two would often go out to lunch together with another instructor who described the pair as flirty, but found Rogers angry and snappish when she last saw them three days before the killing, according to Deputy District Attorney Allyson Ostrowski.
During her opening statement, Ostrowski showed the jury a photo of the hammer used "to essentially bash in Lisa's head," then displayed a graphic image of the results. The defendant hit the victim "at least eight times,'' leaving "her skull in pieces," the deputy district attorney said.
Far from ready to leave her husband for Rogers, Naegle was going in for in vitro fertilization appointments the week before she was killed, the prosecutor told jurors.
Rogers was angry because Naegle wasn't returning his calls and texts and he sat outside her house on the Friday night before the killing, waiting until she came home around 2:30 a.m., Ostrowski said. The next night, Dec. 17, 2016, the two went to a party at Alpine Village, a German restaurant in Torrance, and left around 1:30 a.m., according to the restaurant's video surveillance footage.
About an hour later, they went to a Jack in the Box restaurant.
Security cameras show the car leaving the drive-through lane and then parking across the street for roughly a half hour.
"That 30 minutes is when she was killed,'' Ostrowski told the jury.
Rogers lied and repeatedly told Naegle's husband, Derek Harryman, and other members of her family that Naegle had wanted to keep partying and he left her to go home, the prosecutor said.
When family members saw video from Alpine Village showing the two walking out together, they called 911.
Investigators found blood and Naegle's DNA in Rogers' car "from her head being slammed over and over again with that hammer,'' despite the fact that the car had been cleaned, Ostrowski said.
Naegle was found buried in a grave covered with dirt and manure in the back yard of the residence where Rogers lived with his parents in the 5000 block of West 106th Street in Lennox, near the 405 Freeway.
Her clothing and jewelry have never been recovered.
Ostrowski anticipated that the defense would concede that Rogers killed Naegle, telling jurors, "This case will not be a whodunit. It will be a what is it.''
She urged the jury to consider "what, if anything, did the victim do to provoke the defendant,'' whether that provocation caused him to act rashly, and "would that same provocation have caused a person of average disposition to also act rashly, to also kill?''
Defense attorney Jeremy Lessem began his opening statement bluntly.
"My client, Mr. Rogers, is guilty,'' he told the jury. "Mr. Rogers took the life of Miss Naegle ... not in self-defense'' and is "guilty of a very serious crime.''
Lessem said it was not justifiable homicide, but that his client finally "broke'' after months of being "toyed'' with by Naegle.
She flirted with him and was sexually suggestive in class when other students weren't looking, the defense attorney said. When he passed his nursing certification and was no longer her student, Naegle took Rogers with other friends to Las Vegas in June 2016, where they slept together in a hotel room with another couple and ultimately had sex, Lessem said.
Nothing in Rogers' life seemed to have been working out until he met Naegle, his attorney said.
"Nobody seemed to take him seriously,'' Lessem said. "For the first time in his life ... there was somebody who really cared about him.''
She told Rogers that she and her husband weren't in love and called or texted Rogers nearly every day, according to Lessem, who said the two even talked about what they would name their children.
But around other friends, Naegle mocked and ridiculed Rogers, who has developmental disabilities, calling him Lennie after the character from "Of Mice and Men,'' according to his attorney.
"It was torture for him'' when she would "demoralize him on purpose,'' the defense attorney said, adding that she would also videotape him cleaning up her house to show to her friends and sometimes slap and hit him.
The night of the party at Alpine Village, after "the repeated mental abuse over a six-month period'' Rogers "was realizing that this was never going to stop,'' the defense attorney told the jury.
When Naegle started to hit Rogers in the parked car, he began crying and "just snapped. Something broke ... it all finally came crashing down,'' Lessem said.
"Miss Naegle did not deserve to die. This is a tragedy," Lessem said, calling it "the act of a very damaged, very hurt person with intellectual deficits who broke down and did something he never should have done."