A jury in Arizona found U.S. Air Force Airman Mark Gooch guilty of the kidnapping and first-degree murder of Sasha Krause, 27, in early 2020. (Jake Bacon / Arizona Daily Sun via AP)
FLAGSTAFF, Arizona – Sasha Krause loved words. She loved learning and translating them into different languages. She loved reading them in nursery rhymes and piecing them together into poems.
She wrote about the purpose of her life, her unshakable faith, the possibility of dying young and the glory of heaven – all of these took on new meaning for her family after her death last year, said her father Bob Krause.
On Wednesday, a jury in Arizona found U.S. Air Force Airman Mark Gooch guilty of the kidnapping and first-degree murder in the Krause murder. The two did not know each other and lived hundreds of kilometers apart, but grew up in the Mennonite religion. Krause was committed to the church, while Gooch did not.
Krause, 27, was last seen in January 2020 at the church of her close-knit Mennonite congregation outside of Farmington, New Mexico, where women wear headgear and long dresses and men wear simple button-up shirts. She had collected materials for Sunday school.
Mark Gooch, 22, sits beneath a picture of Sasha Krause shown on a screen during his trial in Coconino County Superior Court in Flagstaff, Ariz., Sept. 24. Gooch was convicted Wednesday of first degree murder in Krause’s death in early early 2020. (Jake Bacon / Arizona Daily Sun via AP)
Her body was found more than a month later in a clearing outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, nearly 300 miles away. A camper gathering firewood spotted Krause face down among pine needles near a national monument. Frizzy wrists were cuffed and she had been shot in the head.
Gooch grew up in a Mennonite community in Wisconsin, where he worked on his family’s dairy farm and attended school through eighth grade. He later rejected the religion and joined the US Air Force.
During his trial, half the courtroom was at times filled with Krause’s parents and other followers of the conservative Christian faith, including the general manager of the Farmington Publishing Department where Krause worked. Paul Kaufman said Wednesday his heart goes out to both families and the ward does not want to be vengeful on Gooch.
“We wish his complete regret that he went from darkness to light,” said Kaufman.
Gooch, 22, faces life imprisonment if sentenced to November 24th. Coconino County’s attorney William Ring said his office would seek justice quickly and thanked the jury for their services.
“Through hard work, the church will be a safe place tonight,” he said in a statement.
The jury heard testimony from those who knew Krause for 10 days and investigated her disappearance. They heard from ballistics experts who disagreed as to whether the bullet from her skull was fired by a .22 caliber rifle that Gooch owned. They heard from Gooch’s father, Jim, but nothing from the defendant.
Gooch showed no emotion when the verdict was pronounced. As he left the courtroom, he looked at two family members who were sitting behind him. They declined to comment.
Coconino County Superior Court Judge Cathleen Brown Nichols separately convicted Gooch of a misdemeanor of theft related to Krause’s belongings.
Gooch’s attorney Bruce Griffen tried to cast reasonable doubts on the jury by pointing out a lack of forensic evidence and testimony about another car that was seen in the Mennonite community on the day of Krause’s disappearance. He said Gooch was peaceful and volunteered information to a detective who interviewed him at Luke Air Force Base in metropolitan Phoenix, where he was stationed.
“The circumstantial evidence from my point of view was substantial, and the jury may come to the conclusion that the circumstantial evidence was sufficient to outweigh these problems,” said Griffen on Wednesday.
Sean Clements, an airbase spokesman, said procedures for Gooch’s release would begin soon after his conviction.
Jim Gooch testified that his son abandoned the Mennonite faith and joined the military because he lacked a converted heart – words Prosecutor Ammon Barker relied on during his closing arguments.
“Scripture says you go from darkness to light,” said Jim Gooch. “What it says is that you have chosen to follow the Lord with all your heart and with the teachings of the scriptures.”
Krause taught in a Mennonite church in Grandview, Texas for six years before moving to Farmington less than two years before her death. She was a person of deep faith who took great pleasure in working and learning with children, her father told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
“She always learned something, especially languages, which she took for granted,” he said. “She loved words: big words, funny words, poetry, classics and children’s stories – very word-oriented, but not chatty.”
The last stanza in a poem called “I’m Not Walking Alone” may have been about dying in old age, he said, but “it goes surprisingly well with what seems to have happened to her.”
Sascha Krause wrote:
“When stress + fear will take their toll
When cruel tyrants seize my soul
When death + all its horrors roll
I will not go alone “
For Sasha Krause’s tombstone, her family chose the words: “She didn’t go alone.”
Nobody saw how Krause was taken out of the community or killed. When the camper found her body near Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, her wrists were tied with tape, she had suffered a violent blunt trauma, and she was gunshot to the back of the head.
Authorities used cell phone and financial records, as well as surveillance videos, to link Gooch to the crimes. Barker said Gooch was driven by a grudge against the Mennonites, which was shown in part through text messages with his brothers.
Authorities found inconsistencies in Gooch’s story when he spoke to a sheriff’s detective shortly before his arrest in April 2020. They said Gooch’s cell phone was the only device that communicated to the same cellular locations as Krause’s phone before their signal dropped west of Farmington.
Detective Lauren Nagele of the Coconino County Sheriff said the hundreds of hours spent investigating and the jury’s decision brought justice to Krause and her family.
“The verdict unfortunately can’t bring Sasha back, but it protects our society by preventing Mark Gooch from ever murdering another innocent person,” she said in a statement.
The San Juan County New Mexico Sheriff’s Office investigating her disappearance said it will bring a separate kidnapping suit against Gooch since the case originated in that state.
Bruce Griffen, Mark Gooch’s attorney, points at his client in Coconino County Superior Court in Flagstaff, Arizona on Friday, October 8, 2021. Gooch, a US Air Force aviator, is accused of kidnapping and killing Sasha Krause. a Mennonite woman who lived in northwest New Mexico and whose body was found on the outskirts of Flagstaff. (Jake Bacon / Arizona Daily Sun via AP)