FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The attorney for a U.S. Air Force airman accused of kidnapping and killing a Mennonite woman is arguing to limit evidence from being allowed at trial that prosecutors say ties him to the crime.
Mark Gooch has pleaded not guilty to the shooting death of Sasha Krause, 27. The Mennonite woman disappeared from her church community outside Farmington, New Mexico, on Jan. 18, 2020, as she was gathering material for a Sunday school class.
Her body was found more than a month later in a forest clearing outside Flagstaff, Arizona, her hands bound by duct tape.
A Coconino County Superior Court judge in Arizona will consider motions Thursday to determine what evidence can be admitted in Gooch’s trial, which is scheduled to start later this month. He faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder and other charges.
Gooch attended the hearing virtually from jail with a black eye, the result of a fight a few days ago with another inmate, Coconino County sheriff’s spokesman Jon Paxton said. Authorities are investigating what led up to it.
Defense attorney Bruce Griffen has asked that evidence be excluded from trial on Gooch’s whereabouts leading up to Krause’s disappearance, his connection to the Mennonite church, communication with his family and information on crimes he might have committed against Mennonites as a teenager.
Griffen said the relevance of the evidence doesn’t outweigh prejudice against his client.
In court documents, prosecutors argue Gooch displayed a pattern of disdain for Mennonites. While Gooch’s parents were part of the church and he grew up in Wisconsin in the faith, he did not become a member.
“This dislike is evident through the acts of burglary targeting Mennonites, his surveillance of Mennonites, and his outward hostility toward Mennonites — even ones he did not know,” prosecutor Ammon Barker wrote in court documents.
The defense also has questioned the reliability of cellphone tower data that prosecutors used to link Gooch to Krause. And Gooch’s attorney wants the judge to weigh in on whether an expert for the prosecution can testify and whether statements Gooch made to a sheriff’s detective were lawfully obtained.
Barker said the cellphone data lines up with Gooch’s financial records, surveillance video and his admission that he was in northwestern New Mexico around the time of Krause’s disappearance.
Gooch and Krause didn’t know each other, and prosecutors aren’t sure why he would have targeted her. Luke Air Force Base, where Gooch was stationed in metropolitan Phoenix, is about a seven-hour drive from Farmington, where Krause lived in a Mennonite community and taught Sunday school classes.