U.S. Air Force airman Mark Gooch was found guilty Wednesday of kidnapping and first-degree murder for killing a Mennonite woman after her body was found in a forested area outside of Flagstaff.
Jurors in the Coconino County Superior Court deliberated for less than six hours over two days before returning the guilty verdict against Gooch, 22, who had been stationed at the Luke Air Force Base prior to his arrest.
Prosecutors say Gooch traveled more than seven hours to kidnap Sasha Krause, 27, from her Mennonite community in Farmington, New Mexico. Her body was found by a camper who was in search of firewood a month later in the Sunset Volcano Crater National Monument area.
Gooch was convicted on charges of first-degree murder and kidnapping and now faces life in prison for the murder charge. Coconino County Superior Court Judge Cathleen Brown Nichols separately convicted Gooch of a misdemeanor charge of theft, related to Krause's belongings. He is scheduled to appear before a judge for a Nov. 24 sentencing.
Gooch showed no emotion during the trial or when the verdict was announced. He stood in a military stance, with one hand resting over the other behind his back. As he left the courtroom Wednesday, he looked at two family members who sat behind him. They declined to comment.
Krause was an occasional Sunday school teacher in Farmington, where she worked in the publishing ministry. She is remembered by those who knew her as a “light” in her community, a bookworm and a churchgoer with a soft-spoken demeanor.
She was reported missing on Jan. 18, 2020, after disappearing while gathering supplies at the church for the next day's Sunday services.
When investigators first arrived at the forested area outside of Flagstaff, they found Krause face down in the cinders with her hands bound by duct tape and a .22-caliber bullet fired into the back of her skull.
As a devout conservative Mennonite who practiced nonviolence, prosecutors suggested Krause might not have fought back when she was kidnapped. An autopsy did not suggest the presence of defensive wounds.
During 10 days of testimony, prosecutors painted the picture of a heartless act of violence against Krause that manifested from Gooch’s contempt for Mennonites. They said Gooch committed the crime under the “shroud of darkness” as he traversed remote parts of the country.
The defense argued the motive did not fit Gooch’s good character and that the state did not produce enough objective evidence tying him to the crime. They said Gooch, who was raised in the Mennonite faith, had visited Farmington in search of fellowship and had been cooperative with investigators.
Jurors were not presented evidence of DNA, hair follicles, blood spatters or eyewitness testimony. Gooch was ultimately linked to the crime using financial records, cellular location data and surveillance footage.
Based on communication with cellular sites, a cellphone expert testified during trial that Gooch’s phone was the only device that communicated with the same towers as Krause’s phone before her signal dropped off west of Farmington headed toward the Flagstaff area.
Investigators were aware of the cellphone pings when they initially interviewed Gooch before his arrest. In the interview, Gooch said he “swung by” the church on a Saturday to check out their sign, though the records place him in the area for more than three hours, the prosecution said.
The jury also heard testimony from an Arizona Department of Public Safety ballistics expert who said the bullet recovered during Krause’s autopsy is traceable to a rifle Gooch unlawfully possessed in his air force dorm.
The defense called a separate ballistics expert who disputed the claim, testifying that his analysis was inconclusive after he had attempted to replicate the state expert’s findings.
Attorneys on both sides went over the evidence one final time on Friday before the jury was sent to deliberate for about two-and-a-half hours. The jury returned to deliberate Wednesday morning at 9 p.m. and delivered the verdict around noon.
Defense attorney Bruce Griffen said he respected the jury’s decision and suspects it was based on the overwhelming amount of circumstantial evidence.
“We thought we raised legitimate, powerful arguments of reasonable doubt,” Griffen said. “The battle in this case was between the lack of objective evidence, and the substantial amount of circumstantial evidence, and that was the jury's task to deal with.”
Coconino County Attorney Bill Ring said his office will “seek swift justice” upon Gooch. He thanked the jury for its service.
“The jury drew this conclusion from the facts and the evidence presented by the Coconino County Attorney's Office and Sheriff’s Department,” he said. “Through some hard work, the community will be a safer place tonight.”
Throughout the trial, more than a dozen witnesses took the stand, including sheriff’s investigators, phone experts and Mennonite community members who lived with Krause in Farmington, including the general manager of the publishing ministry where she worked. Paul Kaufman said Wednesday his heart goes out to both families, and the community doesn't want to be vindictive toward Gooch.
“We desire his complete repentance, that he would turn from darkness to light,” Kaufman said.
Gooch’s father was called to testify by the defense and spoke to his son’s peaceful character. He told the jury that, as far as he knew, Gooch had never officially joined the faith after being raised in a Mennonite community in Wisconsin where he worked on his family's dairy farm and went to school through eighth grade.
“To the best of my knowledge, he wasn’t of a converted heart,” Jim Gooch said.
Gooch later rejected the religion and joined the U.S. Air Force. Sean Clements, a spokesman for the air base, said proceedings would begin soon to discharge Gooch from the Air Force following his conviction.
“All military members must adhere to the highest standards of character and behavior, both on and off duty,” Clements said.
Prosecutor Ammon Barker said in his closing argument that Gooch “relished in the suffering” of churchgoers like Krause. Gooch’s resentment was displayed to the jury through text messages that were sent between him and his brothers.
There is no evidence suggesting Krause and Gooch knew each other before her disappearance. Barker argued the lack of a personal connection only served to make the case “even more terrifying.”
Updated for correction at 1:12 p.m. on Oct. 14.
The Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) recently released a report on alumni wages at the three public universities in the state.
The report found that 242,544 bachelor’s degree recipients from Arizona public universities (Northern Arizona University, Arizona State University and the University of Arizona) were employed in the state in 2020 and earned $16.35 billion in state wages. A total of 88,111 graduate students from those institutions earned $7.57 billion in Arizona wages. In all, graduates from Arizona public universities paid $1.7 billion in state taxes.
“While these numbers are staggering,” George Raudenbush, ABOR’s director of institutional analysis, said in a presentation on the report, “we have every reason to expect that this contribution will continue to increase as the number of degrees conferred by our institutions has been rapidly expanding.”
He said the number of degrees conferred by Arizona public universities more than tripled over the last 30 years covered in the report (“from under 10,000 to 30,000” undergraduate degrees and “from just over 4,000 to more than 12,000” graduate degrees, Raudenbush said).
NAU has reported a total of 24,168 undergraduate and 4,550 graduate students for the fall 2021 semester. In fiscal year 2021, it awarded 6,887 bachelor’s degrees and certificates, and 1,691 master’s or doctorate degrees and certificates.
A “key finding from this report,” Raudenbush said, “is that the median Arizona wages for alumni are increasing over time.”
That was the case for all three state universities.
NAU graduate income increased gradually, yet consistently, from 2011 to 2020 for both undergraduate and graduate students. The median wage for undergraduates 10 years post-graduation was $46,682 in 2011 and $59,656 in 2020. For those with a graduate degree, median income 10 years post-graduation was $56,591 in 2011 and $66,559 in 2020. These numbers are all lower than comparable metrics at the other state institutions.
For the universities as a whole, persistence in the Arizona workforce tended to decline over time. Resident students were more likely to stay in the state workforce -- though, as with nonresidents, that number decreased over time.
Around 75% of resident degree-holders from Arizona public universities, both undergraduates and graduates, were employed in-state one year after graduation. Thirty years after graduation, that number was 35% for undergraduates and 25% for graduate degree-holders.
About 20% of nonresident degree recipients were in the Arizona workforce a year after graduation, dropping to 11% at the 30-year mark.
Raudenbush said he wasn’t sure if these patterns were comparable to those seen in other states.
NAU bachelor’s degree recipients who took on debt to pay for their education are paying an average of 5% of their monthly wages in student loan debt payments, according to the report. Graduate degree-holders are paying a median of 6.9%. Raudenbush said the recommended payment ratio is less than 10% of income -- which all three universities were below, even for graduate degree-holders.
He also noted that Arizona’s public universities “have a considerable portion of our students that do not have to take student loans to complete their degree,” who were not included in these percentages.
Education degrees contributed the most to the Arizona workforce for both graduate and undergraduate degree recipients at NAU, according to the report (1,469 undergraduates with Arizona wages and 2,746 graduates). Median wages for education degree-holders were $53,219 for undergraduates and $65,544 for graduates. The second-highest contribution for both levels came from degrees in business, management and marketing, with 1,389 undergraduates earning Arizona wages and 408 graduates. Median wages for this category were $67,306 and $93,838, respectively.
The next highest contributor for undergraduate degree holders was the liberal arts, general studies and humanities category, followed by health professions and social sciences. For graduate degrees, the next highest categories were health professions, English degrees and social sciences.
The report is currently generated by taking the rosters of Arizona public universities since 1990 and matching them with information from the Arizona Department of Economic Security. The aggregated and de-identified data is then used as the basis for the report.
Raudenbush concluded his presentation by saying ABOR was working with the U.S. Census Bureau so that next year's report would include nationwide data, including on alumni residency and income.
The 2020 alumni wage report can be found on ABOR's website.
It was less than an hour before opening at the Flagstaff Mall when store employees heard a loud crash and witnessed a man wearing a stolen FedEx shirt frantically flee through a service hallway.
Police arrested 26-year-old Ramon Muniz on Sept. 27,after he allegedly stole a white delivery van from a gas station in Winslow and later crashed the vehicle into the mall entrance, bending metal traffic poles and causing an estimated tens of thousands of dollars in damage.
According to online court records, Muniz faces 22 charges, including multiple felony counts, after he was arrested and booked into the Coconino County Detention Facility.
Reports from law enforcement agencies suggest many of those charges are for crimes that were committed before the collision occurred.
Details of the lengthy crime spree involving multiple vehicle thefts and a string of attempted burglaries were released to the Arizona Daily Sun in a report from the Flagstaff Police Department.
Muniz was indicted by a grand jury in the Coconino Superior Court last week. Among the charges were counts of endangerment, vehicle theft, credit card theft, attempted burglary and criminal damage.
According to the report, Muniz was living in Show Low when officers allege he stole a red pickup truck from his father in the early hours of the morning of the mall collision. Police eventually connected multiple traffic incidents to Muniz as he made his way toward Flagstaff.
The first was a call for service made to the Arizona Department of Public Safety when a commuter reported that the red pickup had pulled up behind his vehicle parked on the side of the road.
The caller said Muniz claimed to be a police officer and said he needed the car for an emergency, according to the report. The caller said he was assaulted by the suspect before he returned to the truck and fled.
Then, another call for service reported the red truck had hit another vehicle, running it off the road in the process. The second caller said the suspect drove away without stopping. Neither of the incidents caused serious injury.
The crime spree continued when police received reports of a non-injury collision involving a tow truck that had crossed the I-40 median and ran into a fence, according to the report.
Police used video footage taken from inside the tow truck to describe an altercation between a man suspected to be Muniz and the driver. Officers later learned that the incident also involved the red truck.
Police said the red truck had initially pulled up behind the tow truck before Muniz allegedly entered the other vehicle and attempted to drive away. As he started to flee, the tow truck driver was able to enter the vehicle.
Police said the driver can be seen punching the suspect as the vehicle crossed the median and eventually collided with a fence.
Muniz then fled the accident in the red truck, according to the report. Eventually, the truck stopped at a gas station in Winslow, where it would later be recovered by officers.
In an interview with a Flagstaff police investigator, Muniz reportedly admitted to stealing the white delivery van from the gas station parking lot before crashing it into the Flagstaff Mall. Muniz told officers the mall collision was unintentional, according to the report.
But witnesses and first responders suggested otherwise. A responding officer reported after an initial survey of the scene that the collision appeared intentional. Another witness, who was sitting in a vehicle in the mall’s parking lot, estimated that the van was traveling at 20 to 30 mph when it collided with the traffic barriers outside the entrance.
Once inside, multiple mall employees reported seeing a man in a FedEx shirt flee from the vehicle. Surveillance footage and eyewitness accounts suggest Muniz attempted to break into the Dillard’s department store before fleeing through a mall service hallway.
Inside the service hallway, another eyewitness said they saw Muniz discard the FedEx shirt as he made his escape. The crime spree continued after the suspect made his way out of the mall, according to the report.
Reports made to police suggest a man matching Muniz’s description then attempted multiple thefts at the Flagstaff Fire Department Station No. 3. Separate reports suggest the suspect may have also attempted vehicle thefts at a nearby RV dealership.
According to the report, the suspect allegedly stole a set of City of Flagstaff keys from inside a vehicle in the fire station’s bay before attempting to steal a pickup truck belonging to a firefighter, also taking the firefighter’s bank card in the process.
After searching the surrounding area, Muniz was eventually located shortly after the mall collision by a police officer in the Mountain Meadows neighborhood. He was knocking on the front door of a residence, according to the report. He was arrested at gunpoint.
The report alleges Muniz later told investigators he was looking for a place to hide in the neighborhood, and that he committed the crimes because he was “stressed about being broke.”