VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The man accused of abducting and killing Virginia Beach woman Marie Covington has pleaded guilty to concealing a dead body.
Gary Morton entered the plea on Tuesday, and opted to continue with a bench trial in the case and not switch to a jury trial. A second-degree murder charge has been nolle prossed, though he still faces two first-degree murder charges, along with charges of the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, attempted malicious wounding, shooting at an occupied vehicle and abduction by force, threat or intimidation.
Concealment of a dead body is a class six felony in Virginia, and Morton could face up to five years on that charge alone.
WAVY was in court Tuesday, where testimony was heard from Covington’s daughters, detectives in the case and a Norfolk man who says Morton shot at his car the same night Covington was last seen.
The shooting happened at the intersection of Larkin and Birch streets on August 17, 2022. The man testified that a bullet hit his windshield and he saw Morton shoot four to five more times, missing his car.
During opening arguments, the defense said that a gun accidentally went off in the car hitting Covington. They say Morton has never strayed from saying this was an accident and was cooperative in telling police where Covington’s body was located.
Morton testified his own murder trial Wednesday. He said he didn’t mean to shoot Marie Covington. He said the shooting was accidental and said he never changed his story despite being interviewed by police multiple times. He even started to tear up on the stand.
Morton said he and Covington got into a verbal argument before they left Covington’s home on Aug. 17 of last year. He said they were fighting about Covington not disciplining her daughters. He said he never forced her into the car or laid a hand on her.
He said about 20 minutes after they left Covington’s Virginia Beach home they got into a shootout with another vehicle in Norfolk near Birch and Larkin. He believes it happened around 10:30 pm.
Tuesday, the man who Morton said he got into a shoot out with testified that he never shot at Morton and he is a felon so he can’t even have a gun.
Morton said when he got back into the car, his finger was still on the trigger and it went off, hitting Covington in the head.
He said his adrenaline was high after the shooting and he didn’t realize the bullet came from his gun.
The medical examiner testified that the bullet went into Marie Covington’s head, between her left eye brow and left ear. She said death would follow a wound like this in minutes. She said it looked like the gun was shot from a couple feet away.
In a video interview with detectives, Morton said after the shooting he drove around Norfolk for awhile before putting Covington’s body in a trashcan on Galt Street.
He told police he put her body there so he had time to get away.
On the stand, he told the court he was scared and put her body there because, “it was a messed up area” and he thought, “who would really look for her around there.”
Norfolk Police testified Morton made calls and sent a series of text messages to Covington’s phone starting at 11:56 p.m. on the 17th and going until 12:11 a.m. on the 18th.
Some of the messages said, in part: “Don’t call me or text me again, we are through.” … “Thanks for the ride but I could’ve got here without you.” … “Not answering your phone? Really?”
The next morning he sent a message saying, “I’m leaving Virginia. … Goodbye Queen.”
When asked about the text messages and calls, Morton said he was trying to make it seem like he had nothing to do with it.
Morton said he left the area and went to Pittsburgh following the shooting, but came back because he felt guilty. They say before the chase he was trying to get home to see his family.
The Commonwealth said their goal is to prove that Covington‘s murder was not an accident.
The Commonwealth also played dash camera video in its entirety, from the night Morton led Virginia State Police troopers on a 23-minute long chase that started in Chesapeake and ended in Norfolk.
At the time, troopers were trying to pull Morton over because they believed he was under the influence.
Morton led troopers on a chase starting on I-64 in Chesapeake, spanning all the way to Norfolk and ultimately ending in a neighborhood near Chesapeake Boulevard.
The chase reached speeds of up to 115 mph. Morton then got out of the car and led troopers on a foot chase before being detained by the trooper who originally pursued Morton in the first place.
After Morton was detained, troopers ran the license plate information on the car and learned that he was a person of interest in the alleged abduction of Marie Covington. When troopers asked him if he knew who she was, he responded, “no.”
The trooper testified that he found men’s and women’s clothing in the car, and some of the clothing was tattered and ripped. He also found guns in the car.
The trooper also testified that he saw Morton throw something from the car during the chase. He says two days later, he found a revolver in that spot, along with a magazine and casings.
Covington was abducted and killed back in August 2022, police said, and her body was found on Galt Street in Norfolk, in the Olde Huntersville area off Tidewater Drive. She was last seen with Morton, her boyfriend at the time, and a medical examiner ruled she died of a gunshot wound to the head.
The defense, however, argued she wasn’t forced into the car and instead told her daughters she was going to drive Morton home. Morton got in the front seat and her daughters said they saw Morton hit their mother multiple times while speeding out of the driveway. Covington’s daughters say they tracked their mom’s phone through the find my iPhone app and reported her missing the next day.
Covington’s daughters also told the court they heard Morton tell their mother he “could kill her and no one would ever find out.”
In addition to the state trooper, there was also testimony from several Norfolk Police officers who collected evidence along with forensic experts.
Closing arguments are set for Thursday morning.
Judge Joseph C. Lindsay will make a final ruling in this case. This is a bench trial, not a jury trial so the judge has the final say.