No sign of sexual assault in killing

Autopsy finding aired in UMBC student's trial

May 10, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,sun reporter

Two medical examiners testified yesterday in John C. Gaumer's capital murder trial that an autopsy of the woman he is accused of raping and beating to death revealed no evidence of a sexual assault -- a finding that could mean the difference between a death sentence and life in prison if the former UMBC student is convicted of murder.

Although Gaumer told investigators that he sexually assaulted Josie P. Brown with a stick and attempted to rape her, the assistant state medical examiner who conducted the autopsy and a medical examiner called by the defense said there were no injuries to the woman's genital area.

Defense attorneys have said that Gaumer -- who had spent more than 16 hours in custody by the time he was questioned by detectives at Baltimore County police headquarters -- apparently began to "embellish" his account of what happened the night Brown was killed after being asked repeatedly whether he had also raped the woman.

The prosecution and the defense wrapped up their cases yesterday -- the third day of Gaumer's trial in the Dec. 30, 2005, death of Brown.

Gaumer, then a senior biochemistry major at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, met the 27-year-old Hampden resident a day earlier on MySpace.com, a social networking site.

The Baltimore County jury could begin deliberating today after hearing closing arguments.

Gaumer, 23, is charged with first-degree murder, rape and a third-degree sex offense.

Forty days after she was seen leaving her house for a date with Gaumer, Brown's battered, naked body was found in a wooded ravine off a highway exit ramp at Interstate 95 and the Baltimore Beltway near Arbutus.

With the assistance of a police dog, investigators found Brown's clothing, shoes and an earring as well as half of her lower jawbone scattered across the woods as far as 60 feet from the stream bed where her body was discovered.

Dr. Melissa Brassell, the assistant medical examiner who conducted Brown's autopsy, testified that the woman had virtually no facial bones left and had suffered skull fractures typically seen in victims of severe car crashes.

The doctor estimated that Brown suffered at least 70 additional blows to her body, where there was so much bruising and hemorrhaging that the medical examiners could not count them.

In addition, although Gaumer told police that he had cut the woman's jaw and teeth from her mouth with a pocketknife in an attempt to prevent her from being identified, Brassell testified that there was no evidence that any tools had been used at all.

"It appears that those bones had been removed by breaking them," she told jurors.

Outside the presence of the jury, prosecutors dismissed the sex offense and armed robbery charges.

The defense unsuccessfully sought to have the rape charge thrown out as well.

Whether jurors find that Gaumer raped Brown in the course of the attack could be significant if he is convicted of murder.

Before a death sentence can be imposed in a murder case in Maryland, the law requires an aggravating circumstance -- that a person, for example, killed someone while committing or attempting to commit a kidnapping, armed robbery or sexual assault.

Donald E. Zaremba, deputy public defender for Baltimore County, told the judge that since Gaumer's claims that he sexually assaulted Brown with a stick were contradicted by the autopsy, the only remaining evidence relevant to a rape charge comes from his client's answer to a single question -- when Gaumer told detectives that he believed he had only slightly penetrated Brown, if at all, in attempting to force her to have sex.

"Bear in mind that he is not charged with attempted rape. He is charged with a completed rape," Zaremba told the judge. Prosecutor S. Ann Brobst countered that Gaumer's statement to police was enough to allow the jury to consider the allegation of sexual assault.

"As the court is well aware, penetration -- however slight -- is sufficient for a rape charge to go to a jury," she said.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Mickey J. Norman agreed and twice denied defense requests to throw out the rape charge before the case goes to the jury.

Zaremba further argued that because attempted rape is detailed in a separate statute than first-degree rape, jurors could not convict Gaumer of the lesser crime if they decide the evidence does not support a rape conviction.

Brobst disagreed.

That issue is expected to be sorted out when the judge instructs the jury on the law.

Zaremba unsuccessfully tried to call to the witness stand a social worker and a psychiatrist who treated Brown for clinical depression and substance abuse at a state hospital in 2000.

Zaremba argued that their testimony would support Gaumer's account of the argument that ended their date -- that Brown suddenly changed her mind about going home with him and became angry -- and the defense team's claim that Brown's killing was, therefore, not first-degree -- premeditated -- murder.

But the judge ruled that Brown's psychiatric treatment as well as a robbery conviction five years before her death were not admissible.

He explained that any sudden mood change by Brown was "not relevant" because Gaumer was "the aggressor" in each account he provided police of the altercation -- first by throwing Brown's phone out the window of his car while they were driving to his apartment and then by grabbing her to put her back in his car after initially kicking her out on the side of the road.

jennifer.mcmenamin @baltsun.com

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