Insurance fraud case goes to federal jury

Woman accused of killing 3 men to collect benefits

August 15, 2002|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

GREENBELT - Authorities say Josephine Virginia Gray got away with murder three times, but a federal prosecutor told jurors yesterday that they could bring her to justice now for fraudulently collecting the victims' life insurance benefits.

"It is late and partial, perhaps, but it is justice to convict this woman at last for all the wrongdoings she has done over the years," Assistant U.S. Attorney James Trusty told jurors as they began deliberations in a case marked by the deaths of three of Gray's lovers and her alleged threats of voodoo curses.

Gray, 55, of Upper Marlboro is accused in an eight-count federal indictment of mail and wire charges that stem from her collecting about $165,000 in insurance benefits over the course of three decades after two of her husbands were shot to death in Montgomery County and a boyfriend was found dead in Baltimore.

Gray was charged in the Montgomery County killings in 1974 and in 1990. But the charges in each case were dropped when witnesses, court records show, were frightened by rumors that Josephine Gray practiced voodoo and refused to testify against her.

The federal jury hearing Gray's case now will not have to decide whether to convict the grandmother and former Montgomery County school janitor of murder. But as they weigh the federal fraud charges, jurors will have to determine whether Gray "intentionally caused the death" of the men and was therefore banned under the so-called slayer's rule from collecting insurance benefits.

A defense attorney told jurors yesterday that Gray had nothing to do with the men's deaths, and only collected insurance payments that she was owed.

Michael T. CitaraManis, an assistant federal public defender, said in closing arguments that Gray has been targeted by authorities who have single-mindedly pursued her for more than 25 years based on little more than "innuendo, speculation and rumors."

He said the deaths of the men she was close to, and the ensuing police investigations, have left Gray "in shock, in disbelief - she's numb."

Gray did not testify in the trial, in its third week in U.S. District Court here. She also faces new state murder charges in the deaths of her husbands, brought in January by Montgomery prosecutors who were bolstered by the federal case.

In the weeks before they were killed, each of the three men linked to Gray had warned their friends and family that they feared Gray would try to hurt them, according to trial testimony. The speculation that Gray had done just that began soon after her first husband, Norman "Butch" Stribbling, was fatally shot while parked on a quiet Gaithersburg road in 1974.

After the shooting death of Gray's second husband, W. Robert Gray, in 1990, one informant told authorities that Josephine Gray had been trying for months to find a voodoo practitioner willing to kill her then-husband, court records show.

Prosecutors argued that Gray's main motivation was money. After the death of Stribbling, Gray used $16,000 in insurance proceeds as a down payment for a new home. After Robert Gray's death, Josephine Gray benefited from an insurance policy that paid the balance owed on that home, records show.

The third victim was Clarence Goode, a young man Gray helped raise and later became romantically involved with, according to testimony. After Goode's death in 1996, Gray was the beneficiary of almost $100,000 on a policy that she had urged the young man to take out and that would have lapsed about a week after his fatally shot body was found in West Baltimore.

"This case is truly a book of many chapters," Trusty said yesterday. "Some of the chapters really are written in the blood of three men who loved Josephine Gray."

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