The man accused of murdering Devan Schmidt pleaded not guilty Thursday morning in an emotion-packed hearing that comes more than five years after the 29-year-old woman’s death.
Eric Sims was taken into custody and charged with second degree murder late last month in a sudden whirlwind of activity in the case after the 47-year-old agreed to provide a sample that investigators say matched DNA found on the victim.
CHS reported on Schmidt’s death and inconclusive findings from the medical examiner that left her case in a sad limbo for years as her family pushed for the investigation and justice.
Thursday morning, Sims cried out and tried to leave King County Superior Court Judge Patrick Oishi’s courtroom as Schmidt’s sister made a statement against a bid to lower Sims’ bail from $2 million to $50,000. Addressing the courtroom via video as an advocate carried her laptop near the bench so Judge Oishi could better see and hear, “Please keep Mr. Sims here,” Lia Kendall said, “so that I, my mother, and my children can just sleep a little more comfortably tonight.”
Judge Oishi ruled that Sims should remained jailed on $2 million bail due to concerns about his history of violent crimes against women. Sims, the King County prosecutor told the judge, has a criminal history filled with evidence of violence that makes him “a danger to women he becomes involved with.”
Police say Schmidt was found by a roommate dead on the floor of her room in a Madison Valley house just before noon on a Saturday morning in May 2015. In addition to a lethal level of cocaine and drugs found swallowed in her stomach, the medical examiner, police say, also found suspicious injuries to her face that indicated she had been struck, and hemorrhages to her throat where she had been choked.
Five years ago, the medical examiner said circumstances around her death were “concerning for homicidal violence,” and asphyxia “could not be ruled out” and the county investigator also noted “superficial blunt force injuries” to Schmidt’s head, torso, and limbs. But authorities were ultimately unable to determine a cause and manner of death. Schmidt’s family said drugs found in her system complicated the investigation. In 2017, CHS reported on findings from an independent expert who disagreed with the medical examiner and found that Schmidt was likely murdered.
Armed with DNA evidence and powered by attention from true crime series Breaking Homicide that featured Schmidt’s death last year with cooperation of the victim’s family and local investigators including SPD Detective James Cooper, prosecutors are now charging Sims, alleging he returned to Schmidt’s home after a night of partying.
When Schmidt was found dead that morning with her system filled with a lethal amount of cocaine, plus antidepressants, and a sleep aid, injuries to her body indicated someone had been on top of her while she was face down, police say. Saliva containing Sims’ DNA was located on Schmidt’s front neck, right wrist, and right-hand fingernail clippings and police say the examiner found indications of “the presence of sperm without semen, from a male who has had a vasectomy.” Sims’ wife told investigators that he has had a vasectomy, according to prosecutors.
Thursday morning with the courtroom cleared of everyone but Kendall’s advocate, attorneys, court staff, the judge, and Sims due to COVID-19 restrictions, family, friends, and true crime show host Derrick Levasseur tuned in via an online videoconference call to see the hearing play out and to get their first look at the man they believe killed Schmidt.
The restrictions due to the outbreak will add to what has already been a long path for Schmidt’s family as a growing backlog of cases needs to move through the court system. The next hearing for Sims is slated for June but may need to be postponed and a jury trial — when they start happening again — could take a year or more.
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