49-year-old Denise Gay was sentenced to life in the death of Martre Coles. Gay’s daughter, 23-year-old LaToya Shantice Gay, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for her role in the murder.
Martre was found in a plastic storage bin in Henrico, Virginia, in April 2017. Prosecutors have said he suffocated after being drugged and stuffed into the bin. Both Denise Gay and her daughter were convicted in 2018 for the first-degree murder of Martre.
Judge Lee A. Harris Jr. said that evidence showed the two hatched a sophisticated plot to kill Martre and cover up the crime. During a re-trial, prosecutors said Denise Gay, along with her daughter Latoya Gay, suffocated Coles in his room, on March 12, 2017.
Martre was reported missing for days, until his body was discovered bound in the plastic bin, left in a wooded area on Gorman Road near an eastern Henrico industrial complex.
Denise Gay’s first trial resulted in a conviction of conspiracy to commit murder, but the jury was hung on the actual first-degree murder charge.
Prosecutors retold jurors their chilling account of the homicide in front of the actual gray bin in which Martre’s body had been discarded. Attorneys said that Denise and Latoya Gay drugged Martre before he began work on creating a plaster mask, aiming to gain acceptance into an arts university.
Denise Gay’s then 12-year-old daughter testified that she saw her mother and older sister suffocating Martre with the mask, as she peeked into his bedroom door. The girl said she heard Martre yelling, “Get off me.” As she looked into his room, she saw her mom and older sister sitting on top of him with something white on his face, describing a struggle. The girl also said she saw Latoya Gay later pushing a “green” bin, never seeing Coles again.
Prosecutors went on to show jurors forensic cell phone evidence geographically pinning Denise Gay to Goodwill and Lowe’s stores. They said she bought shoes, which she later put on Martre’s body, and also bound his hands, as if to stage a kidnapping. Attorneys say Denise bought the shovel from Lowe’s with cash.
Lime was also found in the bin with the body. Attorneys presented evidence that someone had done a search on a computer in the house, researching lime and dead bodies.
Prosecutors also presented text messages made between Denise and Latoya Gay, discussing trying to relocate and bury the body, after they initially abandoned it in a bin in the wooded area. At that point, the body had been found by police and removed. Detectives had set up a camera at the site, which caught video of Denise later going back to the scene and searching for the body, with the shovel from Lowe’s.
The defense attempted to poke holes in the prosecution’s story, asserting that Denise Gay’s 12-year-old daughter killed Martre, after admitting to previously stabbing him with scissors (for which she was charged), pouring bleach under his bedroom door and throwing knives at him.
The defense maintains Denise Gay was covering up for her troubled daughter. Attorneys also say the girl’s story had changed throughout the investigation.