FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) – Jury selection began on Tuesday in a case against a U.S. Air Force aviator accused of kidnapping a Mennonite woman, shooting her dead and leaving her body in a northern clearing from Arizona.
Prosecutors have much of the circumstantial evidence against Mark Gooch, 22, who was stationed at Luke Air Force Base in the Phoenix metro area. He faces life in prison if convicted of first degree murder in the death of Sasha Krause, 27, and other charges.
Krause disappeared from a Mennonite community in Farmington, New Mexico, where she worked in the publishing department and occasionally taught Sunday School. Her body was found in late February 2020 outside Flagstaff, Arizona, with her wrists tied with duct tape.
Sheriff officials who searched for Krause and those who investigated his death, as well as cellphone data and ballistics experts, and people from the Krause community are expected to testify in the three-week trial in Superior Court from Coconino County.
Krause and Gooch both grew up around the Mennonite faith but did not know each other, prosecutors said. They linked Gooch to his disappearance and death using cell phone records, Gooch’s financial statements and receipts, and Air Force base surveillance video, they said. A state crime lab report showed that a bullet extracted from Krause’s skull was fired from a .22 caliber rifle belonging to Gooch.
Gooch’s cell phone was the only one communicating with the same cell towers as Krause’s phone before his fell west of Farmington, authorities said. Prosecutors aren’t sure why he targeted Krause, but say he didn’t like Mennonites.
Gooch’s attorney, Bruce Griffen, tried unsuccessfully to block a prosecution expert from testifying about cell phone data he called “weak science.” He also sought to limit mentions of texting conversations Gooch had with his brethren that referred to Mennonites, saying the messages were not evidence of murderous ill will.
Gooch grew up in a Mennonite community in Wisconsin but never officially joined it, he told investigators. He said he joined the military to escape what he saw as a difficult, protected and restricted life, according to the sheriff’s records.
He was stationed at the Air Force base in October 2019 and worked in equipment maintenance.
Krause was part of a conservative Mennonite group where women wear headgear and maxi dresses or skirts. She moved to Farmington from Texas where she taught at the school.
On the first anniversary of his passing, the Mennonite community sent keepsakes to Krause’s parents. Krause’s students said she was a good teacher who read to them and played games with them. Krause preached hard work even though it was unrecognized, others said.
She spoke Spanish and French, often delved into books, and could easily quote the scriptures. The community remembered his deep, dancing brown eyes and calm demeanor, saying his time in Farmington had been short but his impact long lasting.
Paul Kaufman, managing director of Lamp and Light Publishers where Krause worked, said slowly healing emotions surfaced with the start of the trial. He said the community wanted to feel safe and that whoever was responsible for Krause’s murder repent.
“We didn’t see who showed up at church that night and kidnapped Sasha,” he said. “We haven’t seen who did this horrific act. We haven’t seen that. But God seen it.