FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — An Air Force airman will spend the rest of his life in prison for kidnapping a Mennonite woman from northwestern New Mexico, fatally shooting her and leaving her body in the freezing cold in a forest clearing hundreds of miles away.
Mark Gooch, 22, was convicted of kidnapping and first-degree murder in October. He was sentenced Wednesday, nearly two years to the date that Sasha Krause went missing while gathering material to teach Sunday school.
Gooch expressed no emotion when Coconino County Superior Court Judge Cathleen Brown Nichols handed down the sentence. Brown Nichols said the case was one of the most senseless she's handled and was perplexed by a motive that never was revealed.
By all indications, Krause and Gooch were strangers who shared an upbringing in the Mennonite faith.
“Even if he knew the person, it wouldn't be justified,” Brown Nichols said. “But the fact that he didn't even know her was so very senseless and mindboggling.”
Authorities used cellphone and financial records, and surveillance video to tie Gooch to the crimes. The records showed he left Luke Air Force Base where he was stationed in metropolitan Phoenix, drove north past Flagstaff and through the Navajo Nation to Farmington, New Mexico, where Krause worked in the publishing ministry.
Gooch acknowledged he took the trip in a search for the fellowship of Mennonites but he denied taking Krause on Jan. 18, 2020, or killing her.
The community’s frantic search for Krause turned up nothing.
Authorities discovered Gooch left Krause's body in a remote area on the outskirts of Flagstaff, Arizona, that had no cellphone service, under the cover of night. The records showed he tried to cover his tracks, asking a friend to hold a .22-caliber gun, getting his car detailed and deleting the location history on his phone.
A camper found Krause more than a month later and alerted authorities. Krause was laying face down with her hands bound with duct tape. The 27-year-old had been shot in the head.
Prosecutors argued Gooch was driven by a disdain for the Mennonite faith that he grew up with in Wisconsin, exhibited by text message exchanges with his brothers. Gooch never joined the church and enlisted in the Air Force where he worked as a mechanic.
“Now, instead of honorably serving his nation, he is going to serve a humiliating life term in prison,” Coconino County Attorney William Ring said in a statement after the sentencing hearing. “The victim's faith was important to her, so as guided by Proverbs, we all do right by caring that justice gets done for the vulnerable ones.”
Gooch's parents, Jim and Anita, declined to comment after the hearing other than to say they are praying for Krause's family whom they communicated with during the trial.
Gooch's attorney, Bruce Griffen, said he was disappointed Gooch won't have a chance at life outside of prison decades from now. He, too, struggled to understand any motive. Gooch's family and friends described him in court documents as hardworking, respectful, inquisitive and kind.
He had no criminal history.
“I call it the unanswered question,” Griffen said. “Still think there's a disconnect. I don't understand it. I don't think anybody understands it at this point.”
Gooch briefly spoke during the hearing for the first time, expressing condolences to Krause's family and thanking his family for their support. His eyes scanned the courtroom gallery as sheriff's deputies led him out.
Krause's parents, who live in Texas, didn't attend the hearing in person but asked a representative to read a letter to Brown Nichols. In it, they said Sasha Krause was a good sister, conscientious, eager to read at a young age and determined. She had a sense of confidence that her sisters sometimes took as “bossy,” 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 will never understand why their daughter was kidnapped and murdered but said it had to be part of God’s plan.
“God will use her death for His glory, and I am convinced He has eternal purposes for Sasha that we can only guess about, from here,” they wrote.
The Farmington Mennonite Church Community addressed a letter directly to Gooch ahead of the sentencing hearing, although it’s unclear if he saw it. They described Gooch's crimes as heinous but wrote that they believe he has some remorse and urged him to repent fully.