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Jury recommends Natalie Keepers spend 40 years behind bars for her role in teen's death

Natalie Keepers reacts to the closing arguments of the prosecution during her trial Thursday, September 20, 2018 in Christiansburg, Va. Keepers is accused of being an accessory before the fact in the January 2016 murder of Nicole Lovell in Christiansburg Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP, Pool)

MONTGOMERY Co., Va. (WSET) -- A jury found a former Virginia Tech student guilty Thursday for her role in the death of a 13-year-old girl two years ago.

Jurors returned to the courtroom Friday to hear statements from Nicole Lovell's and Natalie Keepers' family and decide on a sentence.

Judge Turk told jurors that the sentence can range from 20 years to life.

They recommended Keepers spend 40 years behind bars.

Lovell's family told the jury how heartbroken they were over the loss of their little girl and showed them photos of her life before it was taken.

Keepers' family asked the Lovell family and the jury for mercy, saying they pray for the Lovell family to have 'peace and comfort.'

Sara Keepers, Natalie's mother, offered a Bible verse to the Lovell's family - "So do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10," She said. "May God bless you always."

Natalie also took the stand, tearfully apologizing to Lovell's family. "I have cried for your family every night. I’m so sorry, I wish I could have stopped it," she said. "I never intended for this to happen."

Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Petitt addressed the jury asking them to think about the future risk to the community and if they feel there is an opportunity for Keepers to be rehabilitated.

While Natalie was still on the stand, the Commonwealth asked her if she every put Nicole in the place of her siblings and thought about the consequences of her actions. Natalie said no because she didn't think it was really happening.

After an hour and a half of deliberation Thursday, the jury unanimously found Keepers guilty of accessory before the fact of the first degree murder of Lovell.

Keepers and friend David Eisenhauer were both freshmen engineering students at the time of the killing and Lovell was a Blacksburg middle school student.

She pleaded guilty to concealing Lovell’s body but denied helping Eisenhauer plan the killing, as prosecutors allege.

Eisenhauer is serving a 50-year sentence after pleading no contest earlier this year to first-degree murder. Prosecutors said Eisenhauer met Lovell online and talked to her for months before meeting her in person. They said he killed her because he feared she would expose their relationship.

Keepers told police she and Eisenhauer talked about various ways to kill the girl and admitted she later helped dump her body in North Carolina after Eisenhauer stabbed her. She insisted that she wasn’t present for the actual killing, but Eisenhauer's lawyers suggested she was there and could have been the one who killed Lovell.

A medical examiner testified that Lovell had 14 stab wounds, including a lethal wound to her neck. Her remains were left beside a highway in North Carolina near the Virginia border.

She will be sentenced in November for the concealment and accessory charge.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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