FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Sasha Krause was a devout Mennonite woman, often immersed in books, who easily quoted scripture and occasionally taught Sunday school before her body was found in a forest clearing in northern Arizona.
Airman 1st Class Mark Gooch, assigned to the 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, was raised in a Mennonite community in Wisconsin but rejected the faith before joining the service.
There is no indication the two knew each other prior to their alleged meeting early last year, but Gooch was arrested in April 2020 and charged with kidnapping and killing Krauss.
Prosecutors will try to convince a jury that Gooch had a general disdain for Mennonites and drove more than seven hours to Farmington, New Mexico, where Krause lived, kidnapped her and fatally shot her.
Jury selection began Tuesday in the largely circumstantial case. Gooch, 22, faces up to life in prison if he is convicted of first-degree murder and other charges.
Krause, 27, disappeared on Jan. 18, 2020, as she was gathering material for Sunday school. Her body was found more than a month later outside Flagstaff, Arizona, with her wrists bound with duct tape.
Gooch’s attorney, Bruce Griffen, has said that any connection Gooch had with the Mennonite community or conversations he had with others about the faith’s followers is not evidence of “homicidal ill will.”
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 trial in Coconino County Superior Court.
Jury selection continued Wednesday, somewhat hampered by coronavirus protocols that limit the number of people who can be in the courtroom at the same time.
Authorities said they tied Gooch to Krause’s disappearance and death using cellphone records, Gooch’s financial statements and receipts, and Luke surveillance video. 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 have said they aren’t sure why he targeted Krause.
Gooch told authorities he was in the area when Krause went missing because he had been checking out Mennonite searches for the fellowship. He denied playing any part in her disappearance or death, according to sheriff’s records.
Griffen unsuccessfully sought to keep an expert for the prosecution from testifying about the cellphone data, which he referred to as “weak science.” He also sought to limit mentions of text messages that Gooch had with his brothers that referred to Mennonites.
Neither Griffen nor the prosecutor’s office responded to requests for comment ahead of the trial.
Gooch never officially became a member of the Mennonite church, 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 worked in equipment maintenance at Luke, where he was stationed in October 2019.
Krause was part of a group of conservative Mennonites in which 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. 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. The community wants to feel safe and for whoever was responsible for killing Krause to repent, he said.
“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.”