A federal jury in Boston Wednesday found a Rhode Island man guilty of abducting Jassy Correia from outside a Boston nightclub, where she was celebrating her upcoming 23rd birthday with friends in 2019, and killing her during a violent struggle inside his car.
Correia’s family members wept and one cried out “Yes!” after the jury pronounced Louis D. Coleman III, 36, of Providence, guilty of kidnapping resulting in death, a conviction that carries a mandatory life sentence.
US District Chief Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV scheduled sentencing for Sept. 22. Coleman, who had been working as an engineer at Raytheon, has been in custody since his arrest more than three years ago and was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.
“I know this won’t bring her back, but at least I can sleep at night now,” said Correia’s brother, Joel, 23, who lives in Dorchester. “We got justice for what he did.”
A group of Coleman’s relatives and friends left the courtroom without commenting. Coleman’s lawyers, who argued that Correia got into Coleman’s car voluntarily and was killed after she attacked him, said they will appeal the conviction.
David Hoose, a lawyer who represents Coleman, said his client “never denied his responsibility” for Correia’s death, but that “we didn’t feel the facts supported the charge of federal kidnapping. Obviously the jury disagreed.”
Prosecutors weren’t required to prove that Coleman murdered Correia but had to convince jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that he kidnapped her, resulting in her death, and crossed state lines.
“This crime was senseless and horrific and there is no question that today’s verdict is just,” Joseph Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, said at a news conference at the federal courthouse in Boston. “No excuse can justify the savagery committed by this man who will face life behind bars.”
Jurors had begun deliberations on Tuesday but had to begin again Wednesday when a juror was dismissed for violating the judge’s instructions by researching material on the Internet related to issues raised in the case. Joined by an alternate, jurors reached their verdict about four hours later.
The verdict followed a three-week trial that featured disturbing security video of Coleman leading Correia to his car in Boston’s Theater District after 2 a.m. on Feb. 24, 2019, then carrying her limp, partially naked body into his apartment building two hours later.
A massive search for Correia ended four days later when Coleman was stopped by State Police on a highway in Delaware and her body was found stuffed in a suitcase in the trunk of his car.
At trial, prosecutors argued that Coleman tricked Correia into getting into his car by promising her a ride home after she was separated from her friends outside Venu nightclub. Coleman sexually assaulted her and then strangled her to death as she fought for her life, they alleged.
“It was very painful,” said Correia’s father, Jaoquin Correia, who immigrated to Boston from Cape Verde with his daughter when she was 3 and sat through testimony and videos that detailed the last moments of her life. “Jassy is no longer here but she has a family ... we had to be here every single day but it wasn’t easy.”
Speaking through an interpreter during a news conference after the verdict, he said he was grateful to the jury, prosecutors, the FBI, and Boston Police, Providence Police, and Delaware State Police, who worked tirelessly to solve the case after he reported his daughter missing.
“I thank you all profoundly from my heart,” he said.
First Assistant US Attorney Joshua Levy said “excellent law enforcement work rarely makes good headlines,” but the dogged work of investigators in several states led them to Coleman and the recovery of Correia’s body.
Correia, who grew up in Dorchester and was a hostess at Del Frisco’s restaurant in Boston, had been staying at an emergency shelter in Lynn with her 2-year-old daughter, Gabriela. She left the child with her grandmother before going to the nightclub and planned to stay at a friend’s house in Dorchester and pick up her daughter the next day, according to trial testimony.
Jurors were shown video footage of Correia outside the club. She appeared intoxicated as she climbed into the passenger seat of an Uber that wasn’t hers, was pushed out by the driver, and fell to the ground. She wasn’t wearing a winter coat and had taken off her new high heels when Coleman stepped forward and took her hand. He gave her a piggyback ride to his car.
Boston police identified Coleman through video surveillance inside the club.
“He did not share with Jassy what his real interest was early that morning: to have sex,” Assistant US Attorney Robert Richardson said during his closing argument on Tuesday. “She was tricked into going with him and getting into the car.”
Richardson said Coleman showed “consciousness of guilt” by keeping her body in his apartment for days as he researched how to cover up his crime and plotted to dispose of her body.
An autopsy showed she died of strangulation and sustained blunt force trauma. Coleman’s DNA was found on Correia’s body, suggesting she was raped, prosecutors said.
Coleman’s lawyer, Jane Peachy, said during her closing argument that Correia willingly got into Coleman’s car and became aggressive because she had mixed alcohol and cocaine during the night. She argued that she attacked Coleman after engaging in consensual sex. She said he panicked after she was killed and was afraid to report it to police.
After the verdict, Peachy said “there’s nothing in his history that indicates he would have done anything like this or that his life was leading up to anything like this.”
Euprepia Correia, Correia’s aunt, helped raise Correia and said she has prayed for justice every day since her death.
“Thank you, God,” she said outside the courtroom after the verdict, wiping away tears.
Shelley Murphy can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.