DADE CITY — A 12-member jury needed just two hours Monday to convict Derral Wayne Hodgkins of first-degree murder for the 2006 strangling, stabbing death of Teresa Lodge, a diner cook whom Hodgkins had known years earlier.
Hodgkins was fresh out of prison after serving time for raping a 12-year-old girl two decades ago when he went to Lodge's Land O'Lakes apartment sometime on Sept. 27, 2006, got into a struggle with her and strangled her, prosecutors said. As she lay unconscious on her bedroom floor, he then stabbed her seven times.
More than a year passed before he was arrested. That's when lab tests on scrapings taken from underneath Lodge's fingernails revealed Hodgkins' DNA. Prosecutors said it got there as Lodge, 46, clawed and scratched in vain to fight off the attack.
"There is no other DNA underneath her fingernails," Assistant State Attorney Glenn Martin told jurors in his closing argument. "There is no other perpetrator."
Bjorn Brunvand, Hodgkin's attorney, attacked that evidence in his closing argument, saying the state's DNA analyst had conceded that it was possible for people's DNA material to transfer to others through normal contact and that it can stay there even through multiple hand washings.
Hodgkins, now 51, told detectives he'd had sex with Lodge about three days before her death.
After the verdict, Brunvand said he was shocked that the jury wasn't swayed by the conflicting science about the DNA.
"(Prosecutors) didn't prove that he killed her," Brunvand said. "They proved that he lied about contact he had with her and they proved that his DNA was under her fingernails."
Hodgkins, who had no family members in the court throughout the weeklong trial, briefly hung his head when the verdict was read.
In 1987, he was a drifter with no known address when he went to a home in Balm, in eastern Hillsborough County, looking for a woman. She wasn't there, according to news accounts from the time, and when her 12-year-old daughter arrived home, Hodgkins attacked her.
The jury in his murder case will return to court Wednesday to make a recommendation to the judge about whether he should be sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty. They don't know about the rape conviction, but they'll learn of it in court before they make their sentencing recommendation.
Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa will have the final say.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @mollymoorhead.