FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - An Air Force airman has been sentenced to life in prison in the death of a Mennonite woman whom he kidnapped from northwestern New Mexico, fatally shot and left in the freezing cold outside Flagstaff, Arizona.
Mark Gooch, 22, was convicted by a Coconino County jury of kidnapping and first-degree murder in October.
"This case, I thought long and hard about it, and I think this case is truly the most senseless case I have ever presided over," said the judge.
Victim went missing in January 2020
Sasha Krause went missing on Jan. 18, 2020, as she was gathering material for Sunday school outside the Mennonite church in Farmington, New Mexico. She had visited her family for the holidays in Grandview, Texas, less than three weeks earlier.
The Krauses didn’t have a habit of taking family pictures, but Robert Krause said he had a feeling they might not have the chance to get together again. So they gathered in front of a cabinet that displayed dishes and took serious and silly photos.
Sasha Krause pulled out of the driveway at dark and bumped up against a pickup truck, knocking off her passenger side mirror as she started a 14-hour drive back to Farmington. Her parents were worried that she was traveling alone, but Robert Krause said she made it back safe, only to disappear weeks later.
The community’s frantic search for Krause turned up nothing.
A camper gathering firewood outside Flagstaff, Arizona, spotted a body in a forest clearing more than a month later and alerted authorities. It was Krause, laying face down with her hands bound with duct tape. The 27-year-old had been shot in the head.
Airman later tied to Krause's murder
Authorities used cellphone and financial records and surveillance video to tie Gooch to Krause’s disappearance and death. He was stationed at Luke Air Force Base in metropolitan Phoenix, hundreds of miles away from the Farmington church he said he visited in search of the fellowship of Mennonites that he remembered as a child growing up in Wisconsin.
Gooch and Krause didn’t know each other, but both grew up in big families and in the Mennonite church. Krause joined. Gooch rejected the faith and enlisted in the Air Force, where he worked as a mechanic. He has been jailed since his arrest in April 2020.
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’s attorney tried to raise doubt with jurors that Gooch was responsible.
A Luke Air Force Base spokesman said proceedings to discharge Gooch will start after he’s sentenced in the Arizona case.
Krause's parents sent letter to judge prior to sentencing
Krause’s parents previously said they won’t be at the sentencing hearing, but wrote to Coconino County Superior Court Judge Cathleen Brown Nichols to say that the victim was a good sister, conscientious, eager to read at a young age and determined.
"As she grew up older, Sasha was more than our daughter. She was our friend. I didn’t only teach her, she taught me, and I am so thankful," read a portion of the statement from Krause's parents, as rend in court by a representative.
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.
Suspect also spoke prior to sentencing
Gooch expressed no emotion while sitting before the judge. He did, however, briefly addressed the court.
"Firstly, I'd like to express my sincere condolences to the deceased family, and also, I'd like to express my thankfulness for the love and support from my own family in this difficult situation," said Gooch.
Gooch did not testify during the trial. He grew up working on his family’s dairy farm and went to school through the eighth grade. His father, Jim Gooch, testified that his son left the Mennonite faith and joined the military because he lacked a converted heart.
The Farmington Mennonite Church Community addressed a letter directly to Gooch ahead of the sentencing hearing, although it’s unclear if he’ll see it. They described his crimes as heinous but wrote that they believe he has some remorse and urged him to repent fully.
Lawyers for Gooch said before this incident, Gooch had no prior convictions, and did not show any concerning behavior.
The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.
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