GREENBELT - Josephine Gray, who is accused in the deaths of three men and feared by some for her practice of voodoo, was ordered held without bond yesterday by a federal judge after prosecutors said that she has a history of threatening witnesses.
Gray, 55, of Upper Marlboro is charged with mail and wire fraud in collecting life insurance benefits on policies for two husbands and a boyfriend after she was "involved in" their killings, prosecutors said.
"We have very strong and compelling evidence that Ms. Gray was involved in all three murders and as a result, she profited," Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra Wilkinson told U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow.
Gray, a mother of six and a grandmother of 11, is charged with defrauding three insurance companies by collecting benefits after the deaths of her first husband, Norman Stribbling, in 1974; her second husband, William Robert Gray, in 1990; and her boyfriend, Clarence Goode, in 1996.
Wilkinson told Chasanow that Gray made threats against all three victims, and alleged in court papers that witnesses were reluctant to come forward because of her powers with voodoo.
"Hesitant and reluctant witnesses have told the police, directly and indirectly, that they are fearful of the defendant - particularly because some believe in the power of voodoo, which Josephine Gray actively practices," according to papers filed yesterday by Wilkinson and Assistant U.S. Attorney James M. Trusty.
Gray offered an acquaintance $2,000 to kill Stribbling in 1974, according to federal prosecutors.
She chased William Gray in her car in 1990, pulling alongside his car so that Goode, who was her boyfriend, could point a handgun at him, Wilkinson said.
In 1996, Goode told police that Gray had assaulted him and pulled a knife on him, she said.
But Assistant Public Defender Michael T. CitaraManis said the government's witnesses are relatives of Gray's who have been involved in disputes with her over the insurance proceeds. He added that much of the government's case is based on statements heard more than 20 years ago.
"Who knows what was said back in 1974 or 1991?" he said.
Montgomery County prosecutors charged Gray in the killings of her husbands in 1974 and in 1990, but dropped charges after witnesses recanted and disappeared before trial, prosecutors said.
Gray has not been charged in the shooting June 21, 1996, of Goode, whose body was found in his car trunk in West Baltimore.
Chasanow noted testimony from a former Montgomery prosecutor who said that he had dropped murder charges against Gray in 1991 because "fear permeated the case" and witnesses were reluctant to come forward.