Man sentenced to life in 2010 domestic violence murder of woman found dead in suitcase

A San Francisco Superior Court judge sentenced a man to 25 years to life in prison Thursday for murdering his girlfriend nearly eight years ago and then placing her body in a suitcase, which was later found floating in the Bay.

The sentence comes after a jury last year found Lee Bell, 55, guilty of first-degree murder for Pearla Louis’ death in 2010.

Ahead of his sentencing this morning, Bell’s defense attorneys had filed a motion for a retrial on the grounds that DNA evidence found on the suitcase’s handle linking Bell to the crime was degraded, low-level DNA that should have been excluded as evidence.

Judge Carol Yaggy, however, denied that motion on the grounds that the most current scientific technology was used at the time, back in 2010.

Before Yaggy handed down the sentence, several of Louis’ family members read statements about how her death has impacted them.

“I’ve spent the last eight years blaming myself for not protecting her,” said Kareem Marshall, Pearla Louis’ son.

“I forgive you. I pray and hope that you get right with God and that you find peace,” he said to Bell.

“This has been a very long and hard eight years for my family,” Ayesha Louis, Pearla Louis’ daughter, said.

“I feel sorry for you, your life is over,” she said. “You have not shown remorse and you have played victim,” she said.

After hearing his sentence, Lee, who sat quietly during the statements, wearing thick-framed black glasses and an orange jail uniform, got a chance to speak to Pearla’s family, saying, “I’m exceedingly sorry. I cannot say that I murdered Pearla, but Pearla died because of me.”

“I want to bring closure to the family,” he said.

Lee then told the judge that he suffers from mental illness, saying, “I’ve gotten better but I still suffer from some things.”

Lee also said he had more information about Pearla Louis’ death that he wanted to share privately with her family and asked to take a lie detector test to clear his name, effectively implying his innocence. Yaggy, however, denied Lee’s request.

Pearla Louis, 52, was last seen alive on May 16, 2010, and was reported missing by her family the following day.

On May 18, 2010, Pearla Louis’ badly beaten body was found curled-up and naked inside a large suitcase that washed up near The Embarcadero and Folsom Street. The medical examiner determined that she had suffered 30 bleeding injuries and died of strangulation.

An investigation found that Louis had told medical personnel and others on multiple occasions that Bell was beating her, but miscommunications and mistakes hampered the police investigation.

The case took eight years to come to a close in part because Bell changed attorneys more than once.

During the trial, Bell’s defense attorney Malcolm Smith worked to poke holes in the prosecution’s case, which relied on circumstantial evidence including DNA on the suitcase handle and video of Bell retrieving a similar suitcase a day before Louis’ body was discovered.

“This is not a moment of celebration. There’s nothing to be celebrated. But it is a moment of accountability. We have someone that committed a very brutal murder who is being held accountable,” District Attorney George Gascon said at a news conference following the sentencing.

“It’s also important that we use today as a message that domestic violence continues to be a problem in our community,” Gascon said while encouraging victims to come forward and report incidents of domestic violence.

“We’ve been waiting for some accountability for this horrendous act and I think today we saw that,” said Beverly Upton, executive director of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium.

“He got a fair trial. He may be able to appeal but the community, the family and the jury knew what the right decision in this case would be,” Upton said.

“In her mind, just like many women, she believed that he loved her. And the sad part is the manipulation and the control that he had on several victims,” Ayesha Louis, Pearla’s daughter, said after the sentencing.

“He’s always been a manipulator and a person who plays games and sadly, not a person who takes responsibility for his actions.”

-Daniel Montes, Bay City News

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