SAT: USAF Airman Case Goes to Jury, Biden Reinstates Protections For National Monuments, + More

Oct 9, 2021

  Arizona Murder Case Against Us Air Force Airman Goes To Jury - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

No one saw Sasha Krause being taken from a Mennonite community in northwestern New Mexico where she worked in the publishing ministry, dominated in card games and ping pong, and where her poetry became song.

No one saw the woman with a quiet and passive demeanor killed hours away in northern Arizona, a gunshot wound to the back of the head, her wrists bound by duct tape and left in the bitter cold among the pine needles. 

Prosecutor Ammon Barker argued Friday that cellphone data, receipts, financial records, repeated lies and a cover-up scheme point to Mark Gooch, a U.S. Air Force airman stationed in metropolitan Phoenix. Barker said Gooch was driven by a resentment for the faith he grew up around in Wisconsin. 

"If you look at the evidence through reason, common sense and experience, you will know beyond a reasonable doubt that this defendant is guilty," Barker told jurors in closing arguments.

Gooch's attorney, Bruce Griffen, argued there is reason to doubt that Gooch killed Krause. He pointed to a lack of forensic evidence, another car seen in the Mennonite community and differing opinions from ballistics experts about whether the bullet taken from Krause's skull was fired from a .22-caliber rifle that Gooch owned.

"Wrong gun, wrong bullet, wrong car," Griffen said. "How does it add up? Wrong guy. You've got to deal with the objective evidence we have that creates reasonable doubt. You can't ignore reasonable doubt."

The 12-member jury did not immediately reach a verdict Friday and will resume deliberations Wednesday. 

Gooch faces life in prison if he's convicted of first-degree murder and kidnapping in Krause's death. Her disappearance on Jan. 18, 2020 set off a frantic search. A camper eventually found her while gathering firewood near Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument in the same clothing that Krause had on when she went missing — a gray dress, white coat and hiking shoes. 

There's no indication that Krause and Gooch knew each other or that Krause put up a fight. Their families are part of a conservative group of Mennonites that dress modestly, reject some most forms of technology, and practice nonviolence and nonresistance. Gooch never officially joined the church.

Both of their parents have been in the courtroom for the trial. Krause's mother grimaced and turned away as Barker displayed photos of her daughter for the jury during closing arguments. Gooch's parents have had emotional exchanges with their son's attorney. 

The 27-year-old Krause was teaching in Texas where her family still lives before she moved to the Farmington Mennonite community where "Lamp + Light" are spelled out in painted white rocks on the side of a mesa. Krause worked in the publishing ministry bearing that name. One of her sisters previously lived in Farmington.

Krause was gathering items for Sunday school when she went missing.

Gooch, 22, told a sheriff's detective that he was in Farmington that day to check the times for church service because he missed the fellowship of Mennonites. His estimates on how long he spent on the trip weren't consistent with the cellphone data, financial records and surveillance video, Barker said.

Gooch didn't simply swing by the church as he said, Barker argued. He spent more than three hours near the church and detoured off the interstate for two hours in the area where Krause's body was found. Gooch later deleted the location history from his phone, bought bleach, had his car detailed and asked a buddy to store his rifle, Barker said.

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, prosecutors said. Barker displayed text message exchanges between Gooch and his brothers that he said show Gooch had a general disdain for Mennonites.

"By all accounts of what we've heard in trial was Sasha Krause was a light, a light to her family, her community, the world." Barker said. "And this defendant snuffed it out."

Griffen told jurors that Gooch voluntarily cooperated with a detective and is nonviolent. He argued that cellphone data is scientifically weak and cannot point to specific activities. He said two text messages exchanges mentioning Mennonites in recent years do not mean Gooch is guilty of murder. 

And Griffen posed a question to jurors about whether someone who was trying to pull off a covert mission would have used a cellphone or credit cards that leave tracks.

"He doesn't do any of those things, he doesn't try to avoid any of those things," Griffen said. "It's all inconsistent with the state's suggestion that he's the guy."

Navajo Nation Reports 51 More COVID-19 Cases, 1 New Deaths – Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Friday reported 51 more COVID-19 cases and one additional death.

It was the third consecutive day that the tribe reported at least one coronavirus-related death after going six days in a row with no additional deaths.

The latest numbers pushed the tribe's totals to 34,350 confirmed COVID-19 cases from the virus since the pandemic began more than a year ago.

The known death toll now is 1,454.

Navajo officials still are urging people to get vaccinated, wear masks while in public and minimize their travel.

Tribal President Jonathan Nez said in a statement that the pandemic had changed the way society functions.

"Significant life events, positive or negative, can cause stress, fear, and anxiety," Nez said. "It's important to monitor yourself and family members and take steps to manage and lessen stress, fear, or anxiety."

He urged tribal members have trouble dealing with the stress of the pandemic to seek professional help.

All Navajo Nation executive branch employees had to be fully vaccinated against the virus by the end of September or submit to regular testing.

The tribe's reservation is the country's largest at 27,000 square miles (70,000 square kilometers) and it covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Biden Restores Bears Ears, Other Monuments Cut By Trump - By Matthew Daly, Associated Press

President Joe Biden on Friday restored two sprawling national monuments in Utah, reversing a decision by President Donald Trump that opened for mining and other development hundreds of thousands of acres of rugged lands sacred to Native Americans and home to ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyphs.

The Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments in southern Utah encompass more than 3.2 million acres — an area nearly the size of Connecticut — and were created by Democratic administrations under a century-old law that allows presidents to protect sites considered historic, geographically or culturally important.

"This may be the easiest thing I've ever done so far as president — I mean it,'' a smiling Biden said at a White House ceremony attended by Democratic lawmakers, tribal leaders and environmentalists.

Restoring the monuments' boundaries and protections restores their integrity, upholds efforts to honor the federal trust responsibility to tribal nations and conserves the lands and waters for future generations, Biden said.

Bears Ears in particular was an important site to protect, Biden said, noting that the 1.3-million acre site  is the first national monument to be established at the request of federally recognized tribes. It is "a place of healing ... a place of reverence and a sacred homeland to hundreds of generations of native peoples,'' Biden said.

Biden called Grand Staircase-Escalante "a place of unique and extraordinary geology" and noted that the 1.9-million acre site had been protected by presidential order for 21 years before Trump's 2017 order slashed the monument nearly in half. Trump cut Bears Ears by 85%, to just over 200,000 acres. 

In a separate action, Biden also restored protections at a marine conservation area off the New England coast that has been used for commercial fishing under an order by Trump. A rules change approved by Trump allowed commercial fishing  at the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean, a nearly 5,000-square-mile area southeast of Cape Cod. Trump's action was heralded by fishing groups but derided by environmentalists who pushed Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to restore protections against fishing.

"There's nothing like it in the world,'' Biden said of the marine monument, citing its "unique biodiversity'' and "waters teeming with life, with underwater canyons as deep as parts of the Grand Canyon (and) underwater mountains as tall as the Appalachians. Marine scientists believe that this is a key to understanding life under the sea.''

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and other Republicans expressed disappointment in Biden's decision to restore the Utah monuments, where red rocks reveal petroglyphs and cliff dwellings and distinctive buttes bulge from a grassy valley. Trump invoked the century-old Antiquities Act to cut 2 million acres from the two monuments. Restrictions on mining and other energy production were a "massive land grab" that "should never have happened," Trump said in revoking the protections.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said Biden had "squandered the opportunity to build consensus" and find a permanent solution for the monuments. "Yet again, Utah's national monuments are being used as a political football between administrations," Romney said.

Haaland, the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary, said Biden's action were not just about national monuments. 

"It's about this administration centering the voices of Indigenous people and affirming the shared stewardship of this landscape with tribal nations,'' she said at the White House. "The president's action today writes a new chapter that embraces Indigenous knowledge, ensures tribal leadership has a seat at the table, and demonstrates that by working together we can build a brighter future for all of us.''

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said Biden's restoration of the monuments shows his dedication to "conserving our public lands and respecting the voices of Indigenous Peoples."

"It's time to put Trump's cynical actions in the rear-view mirror," Grijalva said. 

Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, a conservation group, said she hopes Biden's actions mark an initial step toward his goal of conserving at least 30% of U.S. lands and ocean by 2030.

Trump's cuts attracted widespread news coverage and increased national attention to Bears Ears, Rokala and others said. They called on the federal government to boost funding to manage the landscape and handle growing crowds at the two sites.

"In some ways the hard work is ahead of us now, as we turn our attention to planning, co-management and public education,'' said Joe Neuhof, executive director of Friends of Cedar Mesa, a Utah conservation group.

Haaland, who visited Bears Ears in April, said Indian tribes have long "sung and spoken in unison to protect" Bears Ears, which she called a "sacred place" and "a living landscape.''

Bears Ears "is a place where you can stand in the doorway of a home where a family who lived thousands of years ago left behind a legacy of love and conservation for a place that sustained them for countless generations,'' she said. "Stories of existence, celebration, survival and reverence are etched into the sandstone canyon walls. Sacred sites are dotted across the desert mesas.''

Former President Barack Obama proclaimed Bears Ears a national monument in 2016, 20 years after President Bill Clinton moved to protect Grand Staircase-Escalante. Bears Ears was the first site to receive the designation at the specific request of tribes.

The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, which pushed for the restoration, said Biden did the right thing. The coalition includes the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian Tribe. 

"For us, the monument never went away,'' said Shaun Chapoose, a coalition member and chairman of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee. "We will always return to these lands to manage and care for our sacred sites, waters and medicines."

The Trump administration's reductions to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante paved the way for potential coal mining and oil and gas drilling on lands that were previously off-limits. However, activity was limited because of market forces.

Biden's decision to restore protections at the marine monument came down to environmental groups having a stronger lobby than fishing advocates, said Bob Vanasse, executive director of Saving Seafood, a domestic seafood industry group.

"Anyone who likes fresh local swordfish, tuna, lobster and crabmeat should be very angry with the Harris-Biden Administration today," Vanasse said.

Annual Review Of Campaign Finances Resumes In New Mexico - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

After a four-year hiatus, state election regulators have resumed spot-checks on campaign finance disclosures by politicians, election candidates and political committees, with 10 accounts referred to New Mexico's fledgling State Ethics Commission and state prosecutors for possible enforcement action.

The random sampling of campaign finance disclosures from the 2020 general election cycle taps into a newly deployed electronic campaign finance reporting system at the secretary of state's office that reconciles an intricate web of campaign contributions, transfers and expenditures. 

State law requires an annual sampling of 10% of accounts, triggering a review of roughly 110 accounts. Results were published Friday. Regulators attributed the hiatus in part to scarce resources.

Alleged violations included groups receiving contributions from unidentified sources and failing to register as political committees. 

In addition to the 10 referrals, six committees or candidates are currently working to resolve discrepancies with the secretary of state's office. The agency focuses on education and voluntary compliance.

State Elections Director Mandy Vigil, who oversaw the campaign finance review, says politicians and committee treasurers have new opportunities and tools at their disposal to quickly clarify and reconcile possible violations of the state Campaign Reporting Act. An internet dashboard alerts possible violations in real time as reports are filled out online.

The Campaign Reporting Act includes political contribution limits, currently set at $5,200 for what candidates or committees can accept. Political committees can make contributions of up to $5,200.

The regulatory review of 2020 campaign finance records extends to political committees that engage in independent expenditures — a consequence of 2019 legislation that called for financial disclosures by some so-called dark money groups that operate on the periphery of coordinated political campaigning.

Among them, Enchantment PAC resolved an initial concern about incomplete reporting of independent expenditures. The committee is affiliated with the progressive advocacy group OLÉ. 

Lingering campaign accounts linked to deceased and disgraced politicians also were flagged for discrepancies and referred for possible enforcement.

Fines for late-filed campaign finance disclosures are stacking up against former state Sen. Phil Griego and his campaign account that still holds a balance of more than $40,000. Griego completed a 15-month prison stay in 2019 linked to convictions for fraud, bribery and ethical violations after using his position as a state senator to profit from the sale of a state-owned building.

A political account for former Democratic state Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, who died in 2017, has been flagged for enforcement on discrepancies about payments. 

The account, managed by a relative, disbursed $2,500 in May to the political campaign of Santa Fe mayoral candidate Joane Vigil Coppler and reported a balance of roughly $15,200. It no longer accepts contributions.

Vigil Coppler is challenging incumbent Mayor Alan Webber in a three-way race that concludes Nov. 2.

Officials Probe Fatal House Fire Near Navajo Lake – Associated Press

Officials in northern New Mexico are investigating the death of a person was found inside a home where a fire had apparently burned out. 

The person was found dead inside the home near Navajo Lake State Park in San Juan County Thursday afternoon by a relative, county officials said in a news release.

San Juan County spokesman Devin Neeley said fire crews found signs of a house fire they believed had started sometime early Thursday morning and killed the person. The fire had gone out by the time a relative checking on the person entered the home and found the person was dead.

The Farmington Daily Times reported that the county's joint fire & explosion task force would investigate the case.

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