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Jury finds Henrico woman guilty of killing boyfriend’s son

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- A jury found a Henrico woman  guilty of killing her  boyfriend's son, then hiding his body inside a plastic storage container.

Jury deliberations in the trial of Denise Gay started just after 11 a.m. Thursday at the Henrico Circuit Courthouse.

In 2017, the then 48-year-old woman was charged with the first-degree murder of 19-year-old Martre Lamonte Coles.

Gay's daughter, 21-year-old Latoya Shantice Gay, was also charged in connection with the crime.

"This case is very much like a movie, but it is not a mystery. It's a tragedy," Henrico Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Stacey Davenport told the jury during closing arguments.

Coles, a Highland Springs High School graduate, was found April 2, 2017 in a plastic storage container stashed behind an electrical box near the Mondelez International Inc. plant, on Gorman Road, in eastern Henrico.

Coles' murder was believed to have happened on March 12.

Prosecutors laid out a "mountain of evidence" that they said proved the defendant planned, committed, and attempted to cover up Coles' murder.

Davenport said for months prior to Coles' death, Gay searched online for terms: "find something that works like chloroform" and "how long it takes to suffocate someone with duct tape."

The prosecutor explained Gay organized an elaborate plan to convince Coles he was accepted at an art school located in Florida. Gay impersonated an admissions official and sent emails from a fake account to the victim to build a story why Coles would be away, according to Davenport.

"[Gay] realized this would be a great excuse for his sudden disappearance," Davenport said.

Brandon Crawley testified that he stumbled upon a storage tote while walking through the woods on a lunch break.

"I saw some feet and shoes, so I jumped back. It startled me," Crawley said when asked to describe opening the container. "I then noticed the young boy's face. It spooked me for real."

Prosecutors said Coles was killed at the North Ivy Avenue home that he shared with the Gays, his father, and Gay's other daughter, who was 12-years-old at the time. Coles was reported missing by his sisters the following day.

Denise Gay was in a relationship with Coles' father.

Henrico Commonwealth's Attorney Shannon Taylor suggested to the jury during opening arguments the theory that Gay and her daughter may have killed Coles in order to get closer to his father.

Coles' sister, Michelle Coles, told CBS 6 in 2017 her own theory on why Gay allegedly killed her brother.

"She just didn't like him, I think it had a lot to do with jealousy as far as her position with my father and wanting to be more," she said.

Denise Gay's attorney, Samuel Simpson, told the jury that the "suspicion of guilt is not enough" to convict his client. Simpson said there were inconsistent and false statements made by Gay's 12-year-old daughter who allegedly witnessed the murder.

Simpson questioned the child's recount of a struggle, citing the medical examiner did not find signs of a struggle on Coles' body.

The girl was charged with malicious wounding after stabbing Coles with scissors in a prior attack, according to the defense.

The defense did not dispute that Coles was murdered.

"There's no question Martre was murdered. The only question is who [did it]," Simpson explained.

A medical examiner testified that Coles was found with Trazodone, a sedative and antidepressant most commonly used to treat depression. The victim's cause of death was reported as asphyxiation.

Simpson questioned Coles' father and his reported lack of concern after learning that his son went missing.

However, in a passionate last argument, Commonwealth's Attorney Taylor called Simpson's argument that the victim's father may have covered up evidence as "offensive."

Taylor said it was "shameful" that the defense would suggest or lay blame that Gay's youngest daughter may have played a role in Coles' death.

Outside of the courthouse, family members said they will remember the 19-year-old with a big heart who had a zest for life and didn’t deserve to die.

The youngest of eight children had dreams of attending art school in Florida.

"We will miss his laugh and smile. His goofiness and his family really misses him," said Coles' sister Marqweisha. "He was a good person, who didn’t deserve what happened to him."

This is the second murder trial for Denise Gay.

In December, a jury convicted Gay and her daughter on conspiracy to commit murder of Coles, but were deadlocked on the murder charge.

Latoya's trial is scheduled for May.

This is a developing story. Witnesses can submit news tips here.

Anyone with information was asked to call Henrico Police at 804-501-5000 or Crime Stoppers at 804-780-1000.