FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A jury in Arizona has convicted a U.S. Air Force airman in the disappearance and death of a Mennonite woman who was living in New Mexico.
The jury reached its verdict Wednesday after deliberating for less than a full day. Jurors heard closing arguments in the case Friday.
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Mark Gooch faces life in prison on the murder charge. He also was found guilty of kidnapping Sasha Krause in January 2020 from the Farmington Mennonite Church where she was gathering material for Sunday school.
Her body was found hundreds of miles away on the outskirts of Flagstaff, Arizona, in a forest clearing more than a month later.
Jurors heard 10 days of testimony from those who knew Krause, investigated her disappearance and tried to track down who was responsible. They heard from ballistics experts who disagreed on whether the bullet taken from her skull was fired from a .22-rifle caliber that Gooch owned. They did not hear from Gooch himself.
Nothing indicated Krause and Gooch knew each other. Both grew up in large families with parents who joined the Mennonite church when they were young. Krause continued on that path but Gooch did not, instead rejecting the faith and leaving Wisconsin for the military.
Krause, 27, taught school for six years at Grandview Gospel Fellowship in Grandview, Texas, before moving to Farmington. She worked in the publishing ministry for less than two years before she died.
No one saw her being taken from the community or killed. When a camper found her body near Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, her wrists were bound with duct tape, she had suffered blunt force trauma and had a gunshot wound in the back of her head.
Authorities used cellphone, financial records and surveillance video to tie Gooch to the crimes, they said. Prosecutor Ammon Barker said Gooch was driven by a resentment for Mennonites, partly displayed through text messages exchanges with his brothers.
Gooch’s attorney, Bruce Griffen, tried to raise reasonable doubt among the jury by pointing to a lack of forensic evidence and testimony about another car being seen in the Mennonite community the day Krause went missing. He said Gooch was peaceful and volunteered information to a sheriff’s detective who interviewed him at Luke Air Force Base in metropolitan Phoenix where he was stationed.
Authorities found inconsistencies in his story. They said Gooch’s cellphone was the only device that communicated with the same cell sites as Krause’s phone before her signal dropped off west of Farmington.