Video account of killing shown

UMBC student details beating, disfigurement in recording played in court

November 30, 2006|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,sun reporter

A former UMBC student admitted beating to death a woman he had taken out on a date, and then described in gruesome detail how he disfigured her body to prevent her from being identified, according to a video recording of the confession to police played yesterday in court.

John C. Gaumer, 23, told investigators that he beat and sexually assaulted the woman on the side of a highway after she changed her mind about going home with him and left her body in a nearby wooded area.

Gaumer and Josie P. Brown, 27, of Hampden were on their first date -- a meeting arranged after the pair met on MySpace.com, an Internet site used for social networking.

He is charged with murder, rape, armed robbery and other sex offenses in the Dec. 30 killing. Prosecutors are seeking a death sentence in the case.

Suppression sought

Defense attorneys asked a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge at yesterday's pretrial hearing to suppress the statements that Gaumer made to city and county police, who investigated what was initially a missing-persons case. Detectives discovered that Brown was likely dead when, 39 days after her date with Gaumer on the last night she was seen alive, they listened to voice mail messages left on her cell phone.

"During the struggle for her life, by some inconceivable piece of fate, his cell phone dialed her cell phone," prosecutor Susan Hazlett told the judge. The resulting 42-second message recorded the sound of Brown pleading for her life and then being beaten to death, Hazlett said.

Police searched Gaumer's apartment at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he was a senior biochemistry major. After an initial interview with city homicide detectives, Gaumer led investigators to Brown's body in a wooded area just off the exit ramp from Interstate 95 onto the Beltway near Arbutus.

In the videotaped confession, Gaumer told police that he was taking Brown back to his apartment, which she had agreed to, when she "out of the blue" changed her mind and told him that a former boyfriend she was talking to on her cell phone could kill him.

Gaumer tossed Brown's phone out the window, pulled over, dragged her out of his car and left her on the side of the highway, he said, before circling back to offer to drive her home.

When she began hitting him and swearing at him, Gaumer told police, he went into "a blind rage," "shredding her clothes off" her body and beating her, first with his hands and then with a stick that he likened to a club with a pointed end.

"I was trying to make her feel [expletive] or demean her," Gaumer told police in the taped statement. "I was trying to make her feel like ... I had felt."

He told police that the steps he took to prevent Brown from being identified included slicing off her fingertips, cutting out her jawbone and teeth and ripping her nose off her face. He said he put the body parts into Brown's purse, which he took back to his campus apartment and then tossed into a trash bin.

As the DVD of the confession played in court, Gaumer mostly kept his head down, reading a transcript of the police statement. He repeatedly clenched his jaw and occasionally jotted a note or whispered to his attorneys.

Several of Brown's relatives wept during portions of Gaumer's graphic account to police.

And two people in court to support the defendant twice left the courtroom, one saying, "This is too much."

Defense attorneys have asked Judge Mickey Norman to prevent prosecutors from presenting Gaumer's statements at trial.

Donald E. Zaremba, the county's deputy district public defender, told the judge that the statements should be considered involuntary, in part because they were obtained during a "lengthy" period in custody between Feb. 7 and 8.

He also pointed out that while police had warrants to search Gaumer's apartment and swab the inside of his cheek for a DNA sample, they did not have a warrant for his arrest when they handcuffed him and took him into custody Feb. 7 at UMBC.

Prosecutor's view

S. Ann Brobst, a prosecutor handling the case, said in an interview that state law allows police to arrest someone without a warrant if the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed a felony.

During the police interview played in court, Gaumer also told the detectives that he laundered the clothes he had been wearing the night of the killing, cleaned his jacket and washed his car. He also sent an e-mail or two to Brown, he told police, in an attempt to cover his tracks.

Asked where he had learned about taking such precautions, he told the detectives, "Just CSI, I guess. I'm a science major."

The hearing is scheduled to continue today.

jennifer.mcmenamin @baltsun.com

Timeline, Events surrounding the killing of Josie Phyllis Brown, according to John C. Gaumer's statement to police.

December 2005

Brown and Gaumer meet on MySpace.com and make plans to go out on a date.

Dec. 29 to Dec. 30

7:30 p.m.: Gaumer picks up Brown in Hampden and takes her to dinner at Tapas Teatro Cafe on North Charles Street.

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