VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — For the first time, jurors and family members saw large parts of a video confession from murder suspect Lamont Johnson during his trial for the death of Bellamy Gamboa.
Gamboa disappeared back in July 2018 and her body has never been found.
Last summer, Johnson’s attorneys tried to get the confession thrown out for the trial, arguing that Johnson had been coerced by police into the confession.
The judge allowed the confession to be heard during the trial and prosecutors presented it in parts after other witnesses took the stand on the second day of the trial.
Johnson’s mother and brother will testify later this week as witnesses for the defense.
Disclaimer: Parts of the testimony and details from the video confession below detail instances of domestic violence and may be disturbing to some readers.
Second day of testimony begins
The second day of testimony started with a motion by the defense to prevent any witnesses from remaining in the courtroom for the duration of the trial if they would also testify during the sentencing hearing. This would exclude immediate family members such as siblings, legal guardians, parents and some other close family members.
Gamboa’s best friend, Jayme Pontious, would have been barred from sitting through the remainder of the trial. She ended up staying, which signaled she would not testify during a sentencing hearing if Johnson was found guilty.
The first witness to take the stand Wednesday was Gamboa’s former boss Catherine Carney. She said Gamboa worked with her at a custom brokers firm in Norfolk for over a year at the time of her disappearance.
She described her as the type of employee who would call them and let them know she was going to be late if she was stuck on the elevator in the building. Carney called the police on July 2 when no one could get in touch with her.
Virginia Beach Police Officer David Shoenback also took the stand, testifying that he responded to the call for a welfare check at the home she lived at with Johnson. He says Johnson informed them he and Gamboa used to date, no longer did at the time and were just living in the townhome together.
Johnson told them she wasn’t home when he left to get cigarettes the night before. He then went back to the house later that evening when a missing person’s report was filed by her older children’s paternal grandfather. He was also informed by Johnson of an argument they had the night before regarding the rent.
Detective Briana Spratley testified next, saying she was a detective in the missing person’s unit and was assigned to the case at the time.
She also spoke to Johnson to learn about the nature of his relationship with Gamboa. He told her the two of them met in late 2015 when they worked together.
He told her that he wasn’t pleased at first when he found out she was pregnant months later and she decided to keep the twins.
At that decision, they decided to move in together, split the rent and the bills. The detective also said he told her it was a common occurrence for them to argue about rent payments. During cross-examination, she told the defense that he normally wouldn’t move in with a woman but decided to do it for the kids.
Spratley had entered the townhome at one point and described seeing two couches in the living room. She said Johnson informed them he had one couch and Gamboa had her own. The twins slept in a playpen in the living room and the upstairs bedrooms were for Gamboa’s two older children. Throughout this questioning, Spratley said he wouldn’t give concrete answers.
Next to take the stand was Sgt. Lanis Geluso, who was a detective in the domestic violence and missing persons unit.
She said they took his phone after issuing a search warrant within the week Gamboa went missing. Forensics with Virginia Beach Police combed his phone data.
Forensics said they discovered a number of Google searches that were suspicious. They included:
- Suffolk waste disposal
- Where does my garbage go
- What happens in garbage truck
- Chesapeake garbage
- Missing people searches
- When to file a missing person’s report
When asked about the searches, Geluso said he told them he was looking to get his CDL license and drive a dump truck.
She and her partner Detective Andre Jerry arrested Johnson on July 28, 2018 on charges of contributing to the delinquency, abuse of a child and, after over 16 hours of questioning, were in the room when Johnson confessed.
The confession tape
The jury listened to the video for hours, witnessing the transformation of a man who was at first combative and defensive, but then showed remorse and asked for forgiveness.
Tears flowed in court on Wednesday as the jury and family members, including Gamboa’s oldest children, heard the minute-by-minute details of Bellamy Gamboa’s final moments.
Geluso stayed on the stand from around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday until the end of proceedings, answering follow-up questions prosecutors had as the video aired.
Geluso says they initially brought Johnson in at around 11:40 a.m. on the morning of July 28 after speaking with him a few times earlier on in the investigation. He was interrogated for over 16 hours and Geluso said he was given “so many breaks” throughout questioning, whether they were to use the bathroom or smoke or eat.
In the beginning of the video, detectives can be heard telling Johnson, “we know something happened you didn’t want to happen.”
Over a dozen short clips of the initial hours of the interrogation were played in court, showing when detectives tried to gain Johnson’s trust by appealing to him.
Also played during one of the videos was an audio recording from Johnson of a fight he and Gamboa had hours prior to her disappearance.
The two can be heard yelling expletives at each other as a child cries in the background.
Throughout these clips, the detectives revealed to him bits of what they knew so far, like how he drove her car and left it in front of a dumpster near Lake Edward.
“I don’t know what type of person she is,” Johnson says at one point. He also told detectives he thought Gamboa was “trickin,'” meaning he believed she was having sexual relations with other men, and added that she was using cocaine.
The clip was paused in court, and when asked whether they saw any drugs or drug paraphernalia in the home, Geluso said no.
The video resumed and Johnson went on to say he didn’t know where she is or where her body is. He said if he was trying to protect himself, he would’ve asked for a lawyer by this point.
Around 3 a.m. on July 29, Johnson’s demeanor changed when another detective told him “Dateline” had already called them, they “have unlimited funds from the FBI,” and just have to prove Gamboa is no longer alive.
Johnson asked for a smoke break, to use the bathroom and then said he’ll make everything square.
That’s when it all changed.
Johnson started crying to a detective during the break saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry I lied.” He said he was worried about his kids.
He reentered the interrogation room and apologized to both detectives, hugging Geluso on camera and saying, “I’m sorry.” They then sat down and, in detail, he explained what happened the night of July 1.
The video in court picked up with him confessing to pushing her down the stairs, falling down the stairs holding one of their children, and Gamboa yelling at him, “What are you doing? You’re going to jail.”
He then admitted to pushing her to the ground and choking her as she went over to pick up her phone and call police. While this was happening, he said she told him, “Don’t kill me Mont, don’t kill me.”
“It hurt me to my core to lie to you,” he told detectives throughout his confession.
He then explained to detectives how he disposed of her body, where he did it and when he did it. This included him leaving her car near Lake Edward and putting some of her belongings in it.
Johnson also explained how he felt he did everything for Gamboa. He said he felt like her family didn’t do enough to reach out and offer to help or provide more support to them. Johnson also said he used to hear arguments Gamboa had between her parents about money while he talked to her on the phone in the beginning of their relationship.
“I did feel a little bit relieved,” he said during the tape when discussing how he felt after disposing of her body. “At least I have some peace. I don’t want to have that feeling of not wanting to come home after work.”
Toward the end of the confession, he continued apologizing to detectives for lying to them about what happened. He also worried about the reaction his family would have to it.
Once the clip stopped play, Geluso testified she felt he showed remorse to them, but not to Gamboa.