FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – An Air Force airman will spend the rest of his life in prison for kidnapping a Mennonite woman from northwest New Mexico, fatally shooting her and leaving her body in the freezing cold of a forest hundreds of miles away .
Mark Gooch, 22, was convicted of kidnapping and first-degree murder in October. He was sentenced on Wednesday, nearly two years from the date Sasha Krause went missing while collecting material for Sunday school classes.
Gooch showed no emotion when Coconino County Superior Court Judge Cathleen Brown Nichols delivered the verdict. Brown Nichols said the case was one of the most pointless she’s worked and was puzzled by a motive that was never revealed.
By all indications, Krause and Gooch were strangers raised in the Mennonite faith.
“Even if he knew the person, that wouldn’t be justified,” Brown Nichols said. “But the fact that he didn’t even know her was so pointless and amazing.”
Authorities used cell phone and financial records, as well as surveillance video, to tie Gooch to the crimes. Records showed that he left Luke Air Force Base, where he was stationed in metropolitan Phoenix, and drove north past Flagstaff and through the Navajo Nation to Farmington, where Krause worked at the Publishing Department.
Gooch admitted he made the trip in search of the Mennonite community, but denied taking Krause or killing her on January 18, 2020.
The community’s frantic search for Krause turned up nothing.
Authorities determined that Gooch had left Krause’s body under cover of night in a remote area on the outskirts of Flagstaff, Arizona, which had no cell phone signal. Records showed he tried to cover his tracks, asked a friend to hold a .22 caliber gun, got his car detailed, and cleared location history on his phone.
A camper found Krause more than a month later and alerted authorities. Krause was face down, her hands bound with duct tape. The 27-year-old was shot in the head.
Prosecutors argued that Gooch was driven by a disdain for the Mennonite faith he grew up with in Wisconsin, which was expressed through exchanging text messages with his brothers.
Gooch never joined the church and enlisted in the Air Force, where he worked as a mechanic.
“Instead of serving his nation with honor, he will now be serving a humiliating life sentence,” Coconino County Attorney William Ring said in a statement after the hearing. “She cared about the faith of the victim, so we are all doing what is right by ensuring, as Proverbs directs, that justice be done for the weak.”
Gooch’s parents, Jim and Anita, declined to comment after the hearing other than saying they pray for Krause’s family, with whom they communicated during the trial.
Gooch’s attorney, Bruce Griffen, said he was disappointed Gooch would not have a chance at life outside of prison decades from now. He, too, had trouble understanding any motive. Gooch’s family and friends described him in court documents as hardworking, respectful, curious and kind.
He had no criminal record.
“I call it the unanswered question,” Griffen said. “Still believe there is a break. I do not get it. I don’t think anyone gets it at this point.”
Speaking briefly for the first time during the hearing, Gooch offered his condolences to Krause’s family and thanked his family for their support. His eyes scanned the courtroom gallery as the sheriff’s deputies ushered him out.
Krause’s parents, who live in Texas, did not attend the hearing in person but asked a representative to read a letter to Brown Nichols. It said that Sasha Krause was a good sister, conscientious, eager to read and determined from a young age. She had a sense of self that her sisters sometimes found “domineering,” they wrote.
They shared pictures of Krause reading to children, with her family and on a snowy outing in Colorado so the judge could see her as more than a victim, Robert Krause told The Associated Press.
Her parents said they would never understand why their daughter was kidnapped and murdered, but they said it must be part of God’s plan.
“God will use her death for His glory and I am convinced He has eternal goals for Sasha which from here we can only guess,” they wrote.
The Farmington Mennonite Church community sent a letter directly to Gooch ahead of the sentencing, though it’s unclear if he saw it. They described Gooch’s crimes as heinous but wrote that they believe he has remorse and urged him to repent fully.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.