A 30-year-old man who lured teenager Louise Smith to woodland, where he killed her with “breath-taking brutality”, has been found guilty of murder.
“Predatory” Shane Mays walked with the 16-year-old to the secluded spot in Havant Thicket on VE Day, where he repeatedly punched her in the face, causing her fatal injuries.
He then defiled her with a stick before burning the body, which was found 13 days later following a major police search.
James Newton-Price QC, prosecuting, told the trial at Winchester Crown Court: “A determined attempt had been made to destroy her body, which was so badly burned and damaged by fire as to be unrecognisable.
“Her body had been subjected to extreme violence and violation, including repeated and heavy blows to her head.”
The defendant showed no emotion as the unanimous verdict was announced, and cries of “Yes” could be heard from the public gallery.
The “vulnerable” student had moved in with the defendant and his wife, Chazlynn Jayne (CJ) Mays – the victim’s aunt – at the end of April, after she had “quarrelled” with her mother.
But arguments broke out between the three and Louise complained to her boyfriend, Bradley Kercher, that Mays would “flirt” with her and pin her down, and the jury was shown a Snapchat video of him tickling her feet.
Mr Newton-Price said: “Louise was just 16, she was anxious, needy, fragile and vulnerable, vulnerable to the attentions of a predatory man who was apparently flirting with her and living in the same small flat.”
He suggested that Mays had persuaded Louise to walk with him to the woodland by offering her cannabis, with the aim of sexually assaulting her.
Mays told the court that he punched Louise “many” times to the face and had heard her bones “crack”, after losing his temper.
He said: “I just carried on, I lost control of myself. She made a moaning noise, that’s when I stopped.”
The court heard that a clinical review of the defendant found he had an “extremely low” IQ of 63, putting him in the bottom one percentile of people.
He told the court that he had not worked for five years and spent nine hours a day playing video games.
Following her death, Louise, who was training to be a veterinary nurse, was described by her family as a “smiley, generous person”.
The judge, Mrs Justice May, adjourned the case for sentencing on Wednesday.
Thanking the jury, she said: “You cannot have imagined that you would be sitting on a case like this.
“I want to thank each of you for the attention you have given and your attendance during the pandemic.”
In a statement, Rebbecca Cooper, Louise’s mother, said: “We would like to thank everyone who contributed in finding justice for our beautiful daughter Louise.
“No words can describe the loss we feel on a daily basis. She was our sunshine and is truly missed by all that knew her.
“I cannot put it into words but the pain inside is unbelievable, just knowing we will never see her again.
“It has been a very hard few months and the last four weeks have been traumatising to say the least.”
Louise’s father, Bradley Smith, said in a statement: “Louise was very much loved her whole young life.
“As a family we wanted to give her happy times like taking her on holiday.
“We all find it impossible to accept that we will never hear her voice or see her cheeky smile again.
“Our chance to see her grown up has been ripped away from us. As a father I moved away to try and build a life for both of us. I’ll never get a chance to share that with her.
“The loss of Louise has destroyed our family.”
Detective Inspector Adam Edwards, of Hampshire Police, said: “Louise was just 16 years old when she was murdered by Shane Mays.
“Her death is an absolute tragedy. Our thoughts remain with her family, friends and all that knew her.
“Louise had been described as a smiley, generous person who was known for her kindness and this is how she will be remembered.”