An American club owner who lived in San Ignacio is dead tonight-killed on his business premises at the end of a long night's work into the early morning.

42-year-old Jeff Coats was killed in the heart of the town - when he was sprayed with bullets to his head and body.

It was a cruel execution for a man seeking a new life in Belize. Cherisse Halsall travelled west today to find out more about the tragic end of Jeff Coats's life from his common law who witnessed it.

"Replay had been in full swing on Saturday night. And when owner Jeff Coates came down to get his bike he was ready to get home.

But that unfortunately wasn't to be. And it was here at the entrance to his club that Coates, straddling his sports bike, came face to face with two masked gunmen. They opened fire on him hitting him 9 times and left him to die."

His common-law wife saw it happen and this morning still in fear of her life she told us about the ordeal she went through when the masked gunmen came for Jeff:

Voice of: Common-Law-Wife
"I kept back a little and came outside, like maybe three minutes after him to jump on the bike and I closed the door and I just saw I couldn't even see clearly and I just heard gunshots to him and as I turned and looked they shot one at me and I dropped with the impact."

But she wasn't hit. Instead, she pretended to be, and threw herself to the ground, remaining there, motionless until she heard the gunmen leave.

Voice of: Common-Law-Wife
"No it did not hit. It did not hit I didn't see anything I just think the impact I just fell with the impact."

Cherisse Halsall,
"What did it impact, the door?"

Voice of: Common-Law-Wife
"Yeah, I just fell by the door. I couldn't even see how many people it was. I wasn't looking yet I closed the door and I turned and looked and I saw Jeff, he saw me and then it was so fast that I just heard the gunshots at him and they shot at me I couldn't even see because it was so fast. I heard him say something. Maybe like run or maybe don't hurt her or something."

But four months ago when Replay first opened there had been happier times at the club. That's when Jeff recorded this video:

Voice of: Common-Law-Wife
"He was very excited, we both started this project together, it was three of us who started the project together the place didn't look like that we renovated it, painted it and everything."

But that enthusiasm was short lived. "Replay" it seems had become something of a magnet for violent fights. Fights like the one that happened on September 17th which led Matthew Smith's death.

Coates himself ended up covered in blood and admitted to dragging a man out of the club.

And while Coates died waiting for his common law, he had just texted his girlfriend. She says that Jeff was done with the club owner life and that he'd told her he planned to sell his shares in Replay and move back to Belize City.

Voice Of: Girlfriend
"When that happened that he didn't want to be around when that happened because he is putting his life at risk as the owner because he had to be there and handle all of the situations that happen and for that, he told me that for that reason he wanted to you know give up all of that."

But he didn't do so quickly enough - and now it's left to the police to find his killer and the motive

ASP Fitzroy Yearwood, Communications Officer
"We are receiving cooperation in this investigation and hopefully, we would be able to make an arrest. Yes we have persons detained but that's as far as it goes right now for this investigation."

"We are not ruling out robbery because a black bag that he was carrying was taken away and later found by a citizen who turned it over to the police still containing his cellphone. We have also been informed that he doesn't usually move around with cash on him so like I said we have persons that we are questioning and hopefully after our investigators have spoken to some key suspects, then we will know what was the motive."

Voice of: Common-Law-Wife
"I just want justice for Jeff that is all I want."

The Coats Redemption

And while Jeff's common-law wife says she wants justice, that was kind of a complicated concept in Jeff Coats's life.

At 14 years old he was tried as an adult in the United States and locked up for conspiracy to commit robbery and murder. He was one of the first juveniles to be labelled a "super predator" and locked away for 17 years.

And in the wake of his death, Cherisse Halsall spoke to two men whose lives had been touched by Jeff Coats' somewhat incredible story: the producer who told that story and Jeff's fellow inmate and lifelong friend.

Tonight they tell us about the man Jeff Coats was and the man he fought to become.

Coates knew all about risk and how easily lives can be lost. Back in February of 2020 he was outraged when he learned of the murder of his friend Ariana Jones.

posted (February 11, 2020)
Jeff Coats - Friend of the deceased

"For this to be the way that she goes out and to hear some dude now like I get it, you're in trouble, caught, cracked, and done. You want to be a man now after you commit a murder and kill a girl, take responsibility give some peace to the mom and dad, give some peace to the family: the sisters, the brothers, everybody, that's what you do, you wanna be a man, be a man and do that."

And maybe Coates was so "tough on crime" because as he liked to tell people, he'd been there, having served 17 years in prison on a charge of conspiracy to commit murder. He went in at 14 and came out at 31.

Gordon Katic, Featured Coates in documentary
"Jeff got kind of swept up when he was young in a panic around Juvenile super predators. So in Washington state, he was one of the first young offenders to be sentenced as an adult."

And it was in prison that Coates would meet lifetime friend Anthony Powers.

Anthony Powers, Met Jeff In Prison
"We went in young in the '90s in America they were locking up a lot of. It was like you know tough on crime for kids, especially so you know if we got in trouble then we got, ugh, but now they define it as excessive -a lot of us that should have been but in the juvenile system but we took responsibility we turned our life around and ultimately when we grew up we helped to change the prison system for the better."

But how did Jeff get to Belize? Coates tried real-estate, a call centre, restaurant, and even writing a book with the club, Replay being his final venture.

Anthony Powers, Met Jeff In Prison
"But he was like man I really just want this club to be somewhere where people can have fun and enjoy themselves and you know I don't want it to have a bad rep. I don't want it to be a place where you know gangs come to fight or anything else like that he said I really just want it to be a place where people come and have fun and then he told me about, he said it happened again because we talked after he posted that and he was like man. I really have to find a way to just you know to bring more security."

Gordon Katic, Radio & Podcast Producer
"Jeff never seemed like the kind of guy who would just shut up and take it whatever it was, he was outspoken, he was proud in the best of ways."

"From what I know about Jeff and his story and his experiences in prison he told me a few times, a few different ways that he had to defend himself and his honor because of the context in which he grew up so it doesn't really surprise me that later in life when faced with those kinds of people that he would again try and defend the honor of himself, his business and his patrons."

Anthony Powers, Met Jeff In Prison
"He loved Belizeans. I mean he considered himself one he was like this is my new home this is where I'm at, I mean one thing that I didn't see anybody speaking about is that you know when I was down there I saw that you know he feeds the poor or he used to. Once a wok I mean he really wanted to help people out and give back and I mean this is a tragic loss."

"I mean his past is his past, I don't know what the culture in Belize is but you know he did get into trouble for you know some serious crimes when he was 14 years old but he was, I mean up here that is a child you know I mean 14 years old so I mean and he really did turn his life around and he really wanted to do good in the world."

Discussion is still ongoing as to whether Coates will be buried or cremated but whatever the outcome of that decision Coats' remains will remain in his beloved Belize.

Channel 7