Tearful testimony at killer's hearing

Jurors weighing fate of former student at UMBC convicted in woman's death

May 15, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,sun reporter

Jurors weighing the fate of former UMBC student John C. Gaumer heard several hours of tearful testimony yesterday from the convicted killer's parents and sister, who sobbed as they described his happy childhood, their small, close-knit family and their devastation upon hearing that he had been arrested for an act of violence so out of character that it was beyond their comprehension.

"When he tells me how broken up he is about this, I just know this was not him," Janet Gaumer said of her son. "This was not him."

The emotional testimony came on the first day of Gaumer's sentencing hearing in Baltimore County Circuit Court. Convicted last week of first-degree murder and first-degree rape, Gaumer, 23, faces a possible death sentence in the December 2005 beating death and sexual assault of a 27-year-old woman he had met online.

Yesterday's sentencing hearing began with victim Josie P. Brown's mother, Teresa Brown, telling jurors about the "constant, everyday ache" left by her daughter's absence.

"To us, Josie was the rarest of gems," she said, weeping as she read her prepared remarks. Brown told jurors that seeing young women who resemble her daughter "takes my breath away." She expressed frustration that her daughter's body was so mutilated from the violent beating she suffered and from Gaumer's attempts to prevent her from being identified that the family was unable to see her to say goodbye.

"That closure was taken away from us," Teresa Brown said.

Josie Brown's father and sister offered written victim impact statements for the jury's consideration, prosecutor S. Ann Brobst said. Brobst told the jurors during her opening statement that the maximum sentence - death - "is the appropriate decision under the law."

But defense attorney Donald E. Zaremba told the jury that the law never requires a death sentence and that a variety of mitigating factors - including Gaumer's age, learning disability, lack of criminal record and consumption of alcohol on the night of the killing - should persuade them to sentence him to life in prison or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Zaremba told jurors that his client's actions and confession to police "all but guaranteed that John Gaumer will die a prisoner of the state of Maryland," adding: "You will decide whether that will be by execution or whether that death will be behind prison walls when a higher power determines it's his time."

From the witness stand, Gaumer's relatives and family friends described him as a polite, generous person who doted upon his mother when she was suffering from medical problems and who called his parents at least once a day from college and went to lunch and the movies with them every Friday.

Janet Gaumer said her son played football and baseball, attended Sunday school and participated in the Boy Scouts while growing up. She said her son told her at age 15 about having had sexual contact nine years earlier with an older girl in Sicily when the family was stationed there during Gaumer's father's career with the Air Force.

Asked what impact her son's execution would have on the family, Janet Gaumer broke down. "I'm grieving now. I grieve for both families," she said between sobs. "I don't know how I would survive it."

jennifer.mcmenamin@ baltsun.com

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