DADE CITY — In her dying moments, Teresa Lodge scratched and clawed at the person who was attacking her. Her body was found stabbed and strangled in her Land O'Lakes apartment in September 2006, but it held the clue to who had killed her.
More than a year after Lodge's death, authorities say DNA evidence contained in scrapings from her fingernails pointed to one person: Derral Wayne Hodgkins, a man who had known Lodge from years before he went to prison for raping a 12-year-old girl in 1987. He was on probation for life when he reconnected with Lodge.
They got into a fight in her apartment, authorities say, and Hodgkins tried to choke her as she tried to fend him off. Then he stabbed her seven times in the chest and three times in the neck. The next afternoon a friend found her dead in a pool of blood.
When detectives confronted him with the DNA evidence, Hodgkins told an array of lies, Assistant State Attorney Glenn Martin told jurors Wednesday, as Hodgkins' murder trial began. Hodgkins first said he hadn't seen Lodge since 2004. Then he said he'd run into her at a convenience store a couple of months earlier.
Finally, he told detectives he'd had sex with Lodge, 46, but lied because he didn't want his wife to know.
Hodgkins, 51, is charged with first-degree murder. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
Several witnesses testified Wednesday about Lodge's cleanliness habits. She was a cook at Frank's Cafe in Land O'Lakes and was fanatical about washing her hands, her former co-workers said.
"She was very meticulous. She always, always said 'Wash your hands because you never know what you've touched,' " Melanie Zakel, a friend and co-worker, testified.
Zakel had been at Lodge's apartment a couple of nights before her murder, hanging out with her friend and helping her clean.
She said that during the night, a knock came to the door. It was Hodgkins.
"He seemed displeased that I was there," Zakel said. "I believe he was shocked that someone was there. I believe he thought she would be home alone."
Lodge never introduced Zakel to him or let him inside. When he left after a few minutes, Lodge went right back to cleaning.
"I could tell she was a little aggravated because she was scrubbing harder," Zakel said.
Defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand brought up that Zakel had lied to detectives in the days after Lodge's murder. She covered up the fact that Lodge was selling drugs.
"She made me promise that I would never tell anyone what she was doing," Zakel said. "She was a very good friend."
She also didn't mention Hodgkins' visit at first. "I didn't think anything of it," she said.
The trial is expected to wrap up Friday. Brunvand has said he doesn't expect to call any witnesses.
If Hodgkins is convicted of first-degree murder, jurors would return to make a recommendation on whether he should receive the death penalty.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com.