After escaping prosecution for more than two decades by using threats of voodoo against potential witnesses, a woman who authorities said had a hand in the deaths of three lovers was convicted yesterday of fraudulently collecting the victims' life insurance benefits.
Josephine Virginia Gray, 55, of Upper Marlboro was found guilty on eight counts of mail and wire fraud by a federal jury in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. Prosecutors said she collected $165,000 in insurance money after two husbands were shot to death in Montgomery County and a young boyfriend was found dead in Baltimore.
Gray was charged in the 1974 and 1990 Montgomery County killings, but authorities said the charges in each case were dropped when witnesses, frightened by rumors that Gray practiced voodoo, refused to testify against her.
The jury hearing the fraud case against Gray did not have to decide whether the grandmother and former school janitor committed murder. To find her guilty, jurors had to decide that Gray had a role in the men's deaths and was banned under the so-called slayer's rule from collecting insurance benefits.
Attorneys in the case declined to comment, noting a gag order that extends until Gray is sentenced Dec. 3. She faces up to 40 years in prison.
State prosecutors in Montgomery County also have filed new murder charges against Gray. That case is pending.
At the fraud trial, defense attorneys called Gray a three-time surviving victim who was wrongly targeted by police with tunnel vision who wrongly relied on "gossip, rumor and innuendo."
"For more than a quarter-century, she has been under scrutiny, when all this time she has been a victim who deserves our sympathy and our compassion, not this prosecution," Daniel W. Stiller, an assistant federal public defender, said in court.
Prosecutors offered a different portrayal of Gray, calling her a master manipulator who used new lovers to help her kill men she no longer wanted.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Trusty called Gray's story a book of many chapters and said some of them "really are written in the blood of three men who loved Josephine Gray."