Jurors at murder trial watch confession

2006 video shows UMBC student explaining circumstances of woman's death to police

May 09, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,sun reporter

With the lights dimmed and scenes from the DVD player projected on the courtroom wall, jurors hearing the murder case against John C. Gaumer watched yesterday as the college student flatly explained to police detectives how an evening of dinner and barhopping with a woman he had met online erupted into an argument and ended with his beating her to death in "a blind rage."

"I really lost myself in the situation," Gaumer told the detectives who questioned him about the December 2005 death of Josie P. Brown. Gaumer estimated that he had hit the woman 50 times, first with his fists and then with a piece of wood that he likened to a club and that he found in the wooded ravine near the highway exit ramp where he dragged her out of his car.

Prosecutors offered the piece of wood -- several inches thick and about the length of a rifle -- as evidence yesterday during the second day of Gaumer's capital murder trial. Carroll Bollinger, a county police detective, testified that the wood, which was located by a police dog, was found to have the victim's blood on it.

Gaumer, 23, is charged with first-degree murder, rape, a third-degree sex offense and armed robbery. The former University of Maryland, Baltimore County biochemistry major could receive the death sentence if he is convicted in the Dec. 30, 2005, death of Brown, 27, of Hampden, whom Gaumer had met a day earlier on MySpace.com, a social networking site.

The evidence presented yesterday was particularly graphic.

Gaumer's mother wept through portions of the recording of the police interview. A few jurors appeared startled when the DVD showed Gaumer pounding on the table of the interview room in response to a detective's request to show him how hard he had hit Brown with the wood. Some spectators in the courtroom gasped and whispered to each other as Gaumer calmly described removing parts of the woman's body -- including her fingertips, jaw and nose -- and throwing them away in her purse to prevent her from being identified. And others shifted in their seats when a prosecutor displayed photos of Brown's nude body as investigators had found it -- splayed out in the woods and partially covered with leaves and a log -- 40 days after she disappeared.

Although Gaumer initially told police that his date with Brown had gone well and that he dropped her off at her Hampden home, cell phone records obtained by police indicated otherwise, according to testimony. Investigators arrested Gaumer on Feb. 7, 2006, at his UMBC campus apartment. And during several hours of questioning -- first at Baltimore police headquarters and later in the county Police Department's homicide unit -- Gaumer told investigators that he beat Brown to death and sexually assaulted her after she changed her mind about going home with him.

As they did during a pretrial motions hearing last year, attorneys representing Gaumer repeatedly questioned the detectives about the length of time that their client was in custody.

Gaumer was handcuffed about 7:30 a.m. Feb. 7 last year and taken downtown for questioning, Detective Charles Bealefeld with the city's homicide unit testified. Gaumer was not charged with murder and taken before a Baltimore County District Court commissioner until about 2:30 a.m. the next day, Bollinger testified.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Mickey J. Norman, who is presiding over the trial, ruled in December that the delay was necessary and reasonable, considering the amount of work that the detectives conducted on the case and the fact that Brown's body was not discovered until about 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7.

That's when Gaumer led police to the streambed at the interchange of Interstate 95 and the Baltimore Beltway near Arbutus.

Because the case began as a missing-person investigation and Brown lived in Baltimore, city police initially took the lead. But when Gaumer led police to Brown's body, investigators determined that the killing occurred in Baltimore County, and the jurisdiction of the investigation was transferred to Baltimore County police.

jennifer.mcmenamin@ baltsun.com

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