A Henrico County jury on Wednesday convicted a woman of murdering a 19-year-old Highland Springs man whose body was found last year stuffed in a storage bin left in a wooded area.
Jurors deliberated for less than an hour before convicting LaToya Shantice Gay, 23, of first-degree murder in the killing of Martre Coles in March 2017. Last month, a separate jury had convicted Gay’s mother, Denise, of first-degree murder in connection with Cole’s death.
Prosecutors said LaToya and Denise Gay plotted to rid themselves of Coles, who lived at the North Ivy Avenue home of Denise Gay and her boyfriend, Maurice Coles, the victim’s father. Prosecutors said Coles was drugged, killed and stuffed into a plastic container on March 12.
“LaToya Gay and her mother were both actively involved in killing Martre Coles,” Stacey Davenport, a Henrico deputy commonwealth’s attorney, told jurors Wednesday.
Although the state medical examiner’s office said Coles died from asphyxia, it could not say definitively how his oxygen supply was cut off — such as whether he was strangled or whether he suffocated in the box.
James Bullard, LaToya Gay’s defense attorney, suggested that perhaps someone else who lived at the home — such as Maurice Coles or Denise Gay’s now-13-year-old daughter — might have been responsible for Martre’s murder. Prosecutors rejected that contention, saying the evidence instead pointed to LaToya Gay and her mother as the perpetrators.
Prosecutors said Martre Coles was tricked into thinking he was applying to Full Sail University, a Florida art school, and that he was supposed to create a face mask as part of his application. Denise Gay, pretending to be an official at the school, had an email exchange with Coles about him visiting the campus, according to prosecutors.
Davenport said that on the day of the killing, one of Denise Gay’s daughters, then 12 years old, heard screams from Coles’ room. The girl went to investigate, peeked in the door and saw her mother and LaToya Gay on top of the victim, Davenport said.
The girl saw something white on the victim’s face, according to Davenport. Prosecutors believe the white object the girl said she saw was a mask on Coles’ face. The girl also said she saw LaToya Gay moving a plastic bin through the home and out the door.
Bullard, however, noted that the girl has been inconsistent about numerous details of what she said she saw. The defense attorney also contended that the 13-year-old had tried to kill Coles herself. There were other conflicts in the home, said Bullard, who added that the victim did not have a good relationship with his father.
Bullard said prosecutors presented a “very thin amount” of evidence implicating his client.
“It is a tragedy he is dead, and I don’t know why or what happened in this situation. I would submit you don’t know,” Bullard told jurors.
Davenport said the mother and daughter eventually dumped the storage bin in an industrial area off Gorman Road in eastern Henrico. An employee at a nearby business stumbled upon Coles’ body after spotting the bin while cutting through the woods.
LaToya Gay’s jury recommended a 20-year sentence for the murder charge. Jurors last month recommended a life sentence for Denise Gay for her murder conviction.
Both women were tried together in December. Each was convicted of a separate charge of conspiracy to commit murder, and jurors recommended that they each serve 10 years for that conviction. But at the December trial, jurors deadlocked on whether to convict the two women of the murder, setting up the retrials. The two will be formally sentenced on July 10.