Leaning forward in his chair, the man accused of stabbing his ex-girlfriend at least 15 times and leaving her body at Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens opened his court hearing Wednesday by addressing the judge.
“I don’t know if I’m fit to be here,” said Richard L. Forsythe, 21, of Galena, Ill.
Associate Judge Robert Richter told him that discussion would be held later. Richter proceeded to set Forsythe’s bond at $1 million cash only as he stands charged in Iowa District Court of Dubuque County with first-degree murder in the death of Jennifer Lopez, 20. A conviction on the charge carries an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole.
DOCUMENTS REVEAL DETAILS
A court-ordered GPS ankle bracelet belonging to Forsythe and a bloody hat were found by hikers on Monday, prompting a law enforcement search that led to the discovery of the body of Lopez, according to court documents made publicly available Wednesday. Police identified Lopez as being from Galena, but an obituary submitted to the Telegraph Herald states she is from East Dubuque, Ill.
The court documents made available Wednesday provide far more details on the circumstances surrounding the killing, though questions remain.
“These are the types of cases where there are a lot of leads to follow up on,” said Lt. Ted McClimon, of Dubuque Police Department. “We are interviewing residents in that area and acquaintances of Forsythe and Lopez. There are details we’re still trying to uncover.”
The documents state that Dubuque police were dispatched to a residence that abuts the arboretum property at about noon Sunday after a Jo Daviess County, Ill., probation official called to say that a “GPS monitoring ankle bracelet alarm” was being received. The alarm was coming from the bracelet assigned to Forsythe.
“When you have a phone ping, it gives you the closest address,” McClimon said. “That address was right outside the arboretum.”
McClimon said officers checked around the address but couldn’t find any sign of Forsythe or the bracelet.
The bracelet still was in the area of the arboretum at 9:38 p.m. Sunday when its battery died.
Police then were dispatched at about 11:55 a.m. Monday to the arboretum.
Two people told police that they were hiking in a wooded area of the arboretum when they found an ankle bracelet and a bloody hat. The serial number revealed that the bracelet was assigned to Forsythe.
Officers checking the area saw what appeared to be blood and followed a trail of it to the body of a dead woman, later identified as Lopez.
“Lopez was found to have what appeared to be approximately 15-20 stab wounds to her front, center (and) torso,” documents state. “She also had multiple lacerations to both hands.”
ALLEGED KILLER LOCATED
At about 2:20 p.m. Monday, the Jo Daviess County Sheriff’s Department contacted Dubuque police to say that Forsythe had walked into the county probation office with “blood on his clothing and person,” court documents state.
Forsythe responded to a probation officer’s question that the body at the arboretum was “Jennifer.” Forsythe also admitted to being in Dubuque recently and having contact with Lopez.
He was arrested by Jo Daviess County authorities for cutting off his ankle monitor, according to Sheriff Kevin Turner. The GPS device had been ordered as part of a sentence issued last month in that county.
Dubuque police interviewed Forsythe at about 3:50 p.m. Monday in Jo Daviess County Jail. He said he had been with Jennifer during the weekend but that he didn’t want to say anything more without speaking to his attorney.
“Forsythe added it was a bad deal,” documents state.
Authorities with a search warrant found Forsythe in possession of an Illinois driver’s license issued to Lopez.
Documents also state that “the shoe prints of those being worn by Forsythe appeared consistent with prints located in snow at the scene.”
Investigators also were told that a vehicle registered to Lopez had been located at about 6:25 a.m. Monday in a ditch by the Bureau County (Ill.) Sheriff’s Department. Forsythe was the driver and lone occupant.
“He was stopped in Bureau County and actually issued a ticket,” Turner said.
Online court documents indicate that Forsythe was ticketed for operating without a driver’s license.
Forsythe appeared agitated during his initial court hearing on the murder charge Wednesday, alternately leaning forward and back, turning his head to the side, then staring into the camera.
Dubuque County Attorney C.J. May III called for the $1 million cash-only bond, telling Richter that Forsythe posed a considerable flight risk.
“Mr. Forsythe has no ties to the state of Iowa, other than his criminal record,” May said.
That record included Forsythe being sentenced Monday on burglary and drug charges stemming from an incident in August in Dubuque. Forsythe did not attend that sentencing hearing, having waived his right to be personally present when he entered a written guilty plea, May wrote in an email to the TH.
At Forsythe’s hearing Wednesday, May described a pattern of behavior in which Forsythe would post bond for previous crimes, only to fail to appear for court dates and re-offend.
“He has repeatedly committed offenses in a short period of time,” May said.
Susan Hess, Forsythe’s attorney, argued for a reduced bond of $500,000.
“Mr. Forsythe has been cooperative,” Hess said. “He can be managed through pretrial services.”
Richter sided with prosecutors and said that if Forsythe is able to post bond, he is ordered against contacting members of Lopez’s family and must wear an ankle monitor. Richter set Forsythe’s next court appearance for Feb. 12.
Reached by the TH, a member of Lopez’s family declined to comment at this time, writing, “We just want to focus on our family and overcome this tragedy that has occurred.”
Contacted by the TH, Sandi Helgerson, executive director of the arboretum, said neither Forsythe nor Lopez had any connection with the park.
“We have no idea why they came out here,” she said. “You don’t expect to get a call saying a body has been found at the arboretum.”
Helgerson said the body was found in an undeveloped, wooded area of the 57-acre arboretum.
“It was not in an area where people usually go,” she said.