Contrite Gaumer begs for his life

He apologizes to kin of murdered woman

May 16, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,sun reporter

Saying he could not believe he "was capable of doing such a horrible thing," John C. Gaumer tearfully apologized yesterday in court to the family of the woman he raped, beat to death and mutilated, and then begged the jury weighing his fate to spare his life.

The former UMBC student told jurors that he can't even recall anymore what happened the night he threw 27-year-old Josie P. Brown out of his car on the side of a highway exit ramp and violently beat her - first with his fists and then with a piece of wood he found in the ravine where she was killed.

"My intentions the day I met Josie were to go on a pleasant date, and things went awfully wrong," Gaumer said. "By the end of the night, I didn't plan to hurt Josie nor harm her or hurt her in any way. I hope my actions or statements do not suggest that I don't understand what I did and the pain that I caused, because I do. I wish I could take it all back."

Lawyers are scheduled to offer closing arguments today before jurors begin to decide his sentence. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Yesterday, Gaumer, 23, choked back sobs - his voice cracking and rising in tone - as he read from handwritten notes on a yellow legal pad.

Seated in the front rows of the courtroom, Gaumer's parents wept while the victim's mother, Teresa Brown, held her hand to her cheek and appeared to blink back tears.

"I just feel bad," she said after the hearing. "It all feels bad."

Gaumer's remarks to the jury followed evidence of his sexual history and capped the second day of his capital sentencing hearing in Baltimore County Circuit Court. The same jurors convicted him last week of first-degree murder and first-degree rape in the Dec. 30, 2005, attack on the woman he had a met a day earlier on, a social networking site.

The Hampden woman's body was found - nude and beaten so badly that she had virtually no facial bones intact - in a wooded area just off the interchange of Interstate 95 and the Baltimore Beltway near Arbutus. Gaumer told police that he sexually assaulted her and beat her in "a blind rage" after she changed her mind about going home with him at the end of their first date. He also told detectives that he removed her jawbone and nose and sliced her fingertips in an attempt to keep her from being identified.

Prosecutors say that the maximum sentence is appropriate in the case. Defense attorneys have told jurors that their client's age, learning disability and other mitigating factors should persuade them to sentence Gaumer to life in prison.

Prosecutor S. Ann Brobst told the judge overseeing the case that the evidence - including Polaroid pictures that Gaumer told detectives he had taken of his genital area - rebutted the testimony of Gaumer's friends and relatives, who characterized him as immature and naive for his age.

Defense attorney Donald E. Zaremba told jurors in his opening statement that Gaumer's "youthful age" should be considered a mitigating factor when they weigh whether he should be sentenced to death or life in prison.

Brobst countered that in the context of the state's death penalty statute, age is not simply a chronological number but also encompasses a defendant's life experience and maturity.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Mickey J. Norman allowed the jury to see the photographs, handcuffs and two portions of Gaumer's videotaped police confession that had previously been redacted. In the clips, Gaumer told investigators that he used the "play cuffs" only with "a mutual partner" and that he had taken the photographs of himself to send to a girlfriend when he was 18 years old.

During cross examination of a social worker hired by the defense to collect potentially mitigating evidence about Gaumer's background, Brobst also brought out testimony that Gaumer had once sought medical treatment after having unprotected sex with 10 partners in six months.

When Gaumer rose from his seat to address the jury, he took with him a cup of water and his yellow legal pad.

Reiterating the testimony of his parents and the social worker who reviewed his school records, Gaumer told jurors that he has struggled with a learning disability and a speech impediment.

"I have had to cope with a lot of stressful factors in my life," he said. "But I'm not asking to be pitied, just understood."

The former college football player - who is 6-foot-6 and weighed about 225 pounds at the time of his arrest - compared himself to a character in the John Steinbeck novel Of Mice and Men.

"At the surface, he was big like an ox but he had the mental abilities of a child," Gaumer said of the character, Lennie, a mentally disabled man who accidentally kills a woman. "I never had ... that much of a deficiency, but significant enough to have people second-guess me after knowing my age."

Speaking for about five minutes, he talked about his love for his parents, for his older sister and for the support network of family and friends who have stood by him. He apologized to Brown's family, saying he understands "if you can't forgive me" but holds out hope that they might be able to do so one day. And he emphasized that he was not sorry simply because he will go to prison, but "because that is the type of person I am and never meant to hurt anyone."

Turning again to the men and women who will decide his sentence, Gaumer said, "I only ask the jury of my peers to find mercy in your heart and spare my life."


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