A morbid tale of domestic violence, murder, and a sad attempt to hide evidence reached an end in a San Francisco courtroom today, when Lee Bell, 55, was sentenced to life in prison. The sentencing, handed down by Judge Carol Yaggy, came several months after a jury found Bell guilty of first-degree murder in the death of his former girlfriend, Pearla Louis. Louis’ body was found in a suitcase floating in the Bay in 2010.
Louis, age 52 at the time of her death, was last seen alive on May 15, 2010. Three days later, her body, which had been badly beaten, was found curled up and naked inside a large suitcase near the Embarcadero and Folsom Street. An investigation by the medical examiner concluded that Louis had died from strangulation, but had been severely abused before her death. During the trial, evidence was presented that stated Louis had told people multiple times that Bell was beating her.
At Thursday’s sentencing, Louis’ children spoke directly to Bell.
“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.”
“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.”
Bell spoke after receiving his sentencing, blaming mental illness for the crime. “I’ve gotten better but I still suffer from some things,” he said. “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.”
Lee also told the judge that he wanted to share more information about Louis’ death privately with her family, requesting that he be able to take a lie detector test to clear his name. Yaggy denied him the option.
The sentencing comes in the wake of several horrific domestic violence deaths that have occurred in San Francisco in recent months. Beverly Upton, executive director of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium, spoke after the trial.
“We’ve been waiting for some accountability for this horrendous act and I think today we saw that,” Upton said. “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.”
Ayesha Louis spoke to the power abusers have over their victims. “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. 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 from Bay City News contributed reporting to this story.