FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Jury selection began Tuesday in a case against a U.S. Air Force airman accused of kidnapping a Mennonite woman, fatally shooting her and leaving her body in a forest clearing in northern Arizona.
Prosecutors have largely circumstantial evidence against Mark Gooch, 22, who was stationed at Luke Air Force Base in metropolitan Phoenix. He faces up to 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 ministry and occasionally taught Sunday school. Her body was found in late February 2020 outside Flagstaff, Arizona, with her wrists bound with duct tape.
Sheriff’s officials who searched for Krause and those who investigated her death, along with cellphone data and ballistics experts, and people from Krause’s community are expected to testify in the three-week trial in Coconino County Superior Court.
Krause and Gooch both grew up around the Mennonite faith but did not know each other, prosecutors said. They tied Gooch to her disappearance and death using cell phone records, Gooch’s financial statements and receipts, and surveillance video from the Air Force base, they said. A state crime lab report showed a bullet taken from Krause’s skull was fired from a .22-caliber rifle Gooch owned.
Gooch’s cellphone was the only one communicating with the same cell towers as Krause’s phone before hers dropped off west of Farmington, authorities said. Prosecutors aren’t sure why he targeted Krause but argue he disliked Mennonites.
Gooch’s attorney, Bruce Griffen, unsuccessfully sought to keep an expert for the prosecution from testifying about the cellphone data that he referred to as “weak science.” He also sought to limit mentions of text messages conversations that Gooch had with his brothers that referred to Mennonites, saying the messages are not evidence of homicidal ill will.
Gooch was raised in a Mennonite community in Wisconsin but never officially became a member, he told investigators. He said he joined the military to escape what he saw as a difficult, sheltered and restricted life, according to sheriff’s records.
He was stationed at the Air Force base in October 2019 and worked in equipment maintenance.
Krause was part of a group of conservative Mennonites where women wear head coverings and long dresses or skirts. She moved to Farmington from Texas where she taught school.
On the one-year anniversary of her disappearance, the Mennonite community sent remembrances 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 if it went unrecognized, others said.
She spoke Spanish and French, often immersed herself in books and easily could quote scripture. The community remembered her deep, dancing brown eyes and her quiet mannerisms, saying her time in Farmington was short but her impact long-lasting.
Paul Kaufman, general manager of Lamp and Light Publishers where Krause worked, said emotions that slowly were healing have bubbled up with the start of the trial. He said the community wants to feel safe and for whoever was responsible for killing Krause to repent.
“We did not see who showed up at the church that night and kidnapped Sasha,” he said. “We did not see who committed that horrible act. We didn’t see that. But God saw that.”