Air Force soldiers on trial in Arizona for the death of a Mennonite woman

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Flagstaff, Arizona (AP) — Sasha Klaus is a devout Mennonite woman who was often immersed in books. She briefly quoted the Bible and occasionally taught Sunday School before her body was found in deforestation in northern Arizona.

Mark Gooch grew up in the Mennonite community of Wisconsin, but refused to believe and joined the US Air Force. He was stationed at a base in the Phoenix metropolitan area when he was arrested and charged with Klaus’ death last year.

There is no sign that the two knew each other. Prosecutors try to convince the jury that Gooch generally despised Mennonites and drove to Farmington, New Mexico, where Klaus lived, for more than seven hours, kidnapped and shot deadly.

The jury selection began on Tuesday, primarily in contextual cases. The 22-year-old Gooch faces life imprisonment if convicted of a single murder or other offense.

Klaus, 27, disappeared on January 18, 2020 because he was collecting materials for Sunday School. Her body was found outside Flagstaff, Arizona more than a month later, and her wrists were tied with duct tape.

Bruce Griffen, a Gooch lawyer, states that Gooch’s connection with the Mennonite community and discussions with others about believers in the faith are not evidence of “murderous malice.”

Sheriffs searching for Klaus and those investigating her death, cell phone data and ballistics experts, and people in the Klaus community are expected to testify in a trial at the Coconino County High Court. ..

The jury selection continues on Wednesday and is somewhat hampered by the coronavirus protocol, which limits the number of people who can be in court at the same time.

Authorities said they linked Gooch to Klaus’ disappearance and death using cell phone records, Gooch’s financial statements and receipts, and surveillance videos from Luke Air Force Base. Bullets taken from Klaus’s skull were fired from a .22 caliber rifle owned by Gooch, according to a report from the State Criminology Institute.

According to officials, Gooch’s cell phone was the only one that was communicating with the same cell tower as Klaus’s phone before she got off to the west of Farmington. The prosecution does not know why he targeted Klaus.

Gooch told authorities he was in the area when Klaus went missing because he was checking Mennonite’s search for a fellowship. According to sheriff records, he denied being involved in her disappearance or death.

Griffen failed in an attempt to prevent prosecution experts from witnessing what he called “weak science” cell phone data. He also sought to limit mention of text message conversations with his brothers that Gooch mentioned Mennonites.

Neither Griffen nor the Prosecutor’s Office responded to requests for comment prior to the trial.

Gooch has never officially become a member of the Mennonite Church, he told investigators. According to sheriff records, he said he would join the army and escape what was considered a difficult, protected and restricted life. He was engaged in equipment maintenance at an air force base in the Phoenix area, where he was stationed in October 2019.

Klaus was part of a group of conservative Mennonites in which women wore head coverings and long dresses and skirts. She moved from Texas to Farmington, where she taught school.

The Mennonite community, celebrating its first anniversary of her disappearance, remembered Klaus’ parents. Klaus students told them she was a good teacher who read and played games with them. Klaus preached hard work, even if it went unnoticed, others said.

She spoke Spanish and French. The community reminded her of her deeply dancing brown eyes and quiet Mannerism, saying her time at Farmington was short, but her influence was long-lasting.

Paul Kaufmann, general manager of Lamp and Light Publisher, where Klaus worked, said the slowly healed emotions bubbling with the start of the trial. He said the community felt safe and the person responsible for killing Klaus wanted to repent.

“I didn’t know who appeared in the church that night and kidnapped Sasha,” he said. “I didn’t know who did the horrific act. We didn’t see it, but God saw it.”

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