VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A jury trial began Monday in the murder case of Bellamy Gamboa, a Virginia Beach woman who went missing in July 2018.
Her body has never been found.
Bellamy Gamboa was first reported missing on July 1, 2018 from her Virginia Beach apartment she shared with Lamont Johnson and their twins.
After a monthlong search, police called off the search and arrested Johnson, who they say confessed to killing Gamboa by choking her to death and dumping her body in a Chesapeake trash bin. He’s charged with second-degree murder in the case.
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.
Court documents showed that police had given Johnson 15 breaks during his 18-hour interrogation.
At the time of her disappearance, Johnson and Gamboa had 1-year-old twins.
The trial begins
Four years after her sister went missing, Charisse Gamboa says she is focused on her late sister’s children, as the trial gets underway in Virginia Beach.
“They’re mentally strong. I mean, they’re so resilient and, and that’s why I just want to focus on being with them and, umm, I guess, for the end,” Charisse told WAVY.
Johnson also faces two charges of contributing to the delinquency/abuse of a child and four counts of child endangerment. He will be tried on two of the counts during the same trial as the second-degree murder charge.
Each child delinquency/abuse charge carries a maximum of 12 months while the second-degree murder charge carries a sentence of anywhere from five to 40 years.
The trial was initially set to begin in January 2022 but was delayed because of COVID-19, motions filed in court and because one of the defense attorneys representing Johnson left the public defender’s office. That said, they had to wait for another attorney to be appointed.
Charisse Gamboa says she trusts the prosecutors handling the case but is nervous about one main piece of their investigation: the fact that they never found her sister’s body.
“When you’re in the courtroom hearing like that there’s a possibility because it’s called a ‘no body’ trial, so you get somewhat discouraged,” she said.
One of the main questions prosecutors asked jurors during the selection process was whether they’d be able to convict even though investigators are not able to produce a body.
More details in the investigation are expected to be revealed in the coming days.
As the trial begins, Charisse Gamboa wants people to remember one thing.
“We just want to remember Bellamy Day which is July 16, and that’s for her children. And just that she wanted to be a great mother,” she said.
Defense attorneys for Johnson introduced a motion for a change of venue before the jury selection process began Tuesday, citing increased media presence and attention as a rationale for the move.
Revelations during opening statements, first witnesses
Prosecutors face a unique challenge: convincing a jury to convict someone for murder without having a body.
During opening statements, prosecutors went through the timeline of what they believed happened, much of it based on the confession Johnson gave to police in 2018.
For the first time, prosecutors played video showing a dump truck they believe carried Gamboa’s body to a garbage facility in Portsmouth where they think her body may have been incinerated.
Family members wiped away tears as prosecutors detailed these findings to the jury.
Parts of Johnson’s confession were played in court Tuesday during opening statements, including video of when investigators took him to the dumpster where he allegedly put Gamboa’s body, where he explained to them how he did it.
Prosecutors say Johnson told them he “covered her up with garbage that was in there” when he allegedly disposed of her body. They also say he looked up “where does dumpster trash for in Virginia” on his phone.
Defense attorneys for Johnson say they’ll agree with certain facts the commonwealth will present, like the fact that Gamboa is no longer present.
In their short remarks, they asked jurors to base their verdict on the facts presented in court throughout what’s expected to be a week-long trial.
Multiple people testified for the commonwealth in court Tuesday, including Bellamy’s father, her best friend, the babysitter of her twins and the grandmother of her oldest children.
Gamboa’s father Emmanuel testified through tears that the last time he heard from Bellamy was on Father’s Day and said it wasn’t like her to not reach out.
Valerie Bland was the babysitter for the twins. She testified that Gamboa was a good mother. She said she knew “something was terribly wrong” when she learned that she went missing.
Gamboa’s best friend Jayme Pontious said she found it strange to not wake up to texts from her on the morning of July 1, 2018. She said she tried to call her, but it went straight to voicemail.
Roxanne Hicks, the grandmother of Gamboa’s two oldest children, also said she knew “something was wrong” when Gamboa missed one of her son’s baseball games.
“She was a mother hen, a mother hen to all of them,” she said.
The trial will pick up again at 9 a.m. in Virginia Beach Circuit Court Wednesday morning.