Gaumer gets life sentence

Jury rejects executing former UMBC student for rape and murder

May 17, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,sun reporter

Former UMBC student John C. Gaumer was spared the death penalty yesterday when a jury sentenced him to instead spend the rest of his life in prison for raping and beating to death a woman he met online.

The Baltimore County jury deliberated for less than four hours before reaching its decision, which was read just before 4 p.m. in a courtroom so full that attorneys, courthouse staff and other spectators stood several rows deep along the back wall and in part of the aisle.

Because the sentencing form that the jurors had to fill out was 10 pages long, several tense minutes passed before the panel's actual sentence - life in prison without the possibility of parole - was announced. Baltimore County Circuit Judge Mickey J. Norman later added a consecutive life prison term for the rape conviction.

Gaumer, 23, breathed deeply as the jury's decision was read. Seated behind him in the first row of the courtroom, his parents burst into tears. Defense attorney Donald E. Zaremba nodded and mouthed the words, "Thank you," to the jurors before wiping his eyes with a handkerchief.

Across the courtroom, the parents and other relatives of the victim, Josie P. Brown, sat quietly in the front row, right, where they have watched for eight days as the trial - and then the sentencing hearing - of their daughter's killer unfolded in gruesome detail.

The 27-year-old's body was found in February 2006. Her Hampden roommates had last seen her as she left for a first date about 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 29, 2005, with a man she had met hours earlier on, a social networking site.

After admitting to police that he had beaten Brown to death after she changed her mind about going home with him, Gaumer led police to a wooded ravine just down an embankment from the interchange of Interstate 95 and the Baltimore Beltway near Arbutus.

There, investigators found Brown's body, nude and so badly beaten that she had virtually no facial bones intact and was missing the jawbone, teeth and the nose that Gaumer told detectives he removed in an attempt to prevent her from being identified.

Norman, the judge, said as the sentencing hearing came to an end that he couldn't shake one thought that had been running through his mind throughout the proceedings.

"It was a bad date. Two people didn't click, so to speak," Norman said.

"You could have taken her home, watched her walk into her house and never spoken to her again. Instead, you brutalized this woman. Brutalized," the judge said.

Maryland law requires judges or juries at capital sentencings to determine whether a defendant is guilty of first-degree murder and whether an aggravating factor to the crime exists, such as the killing of a police officer or a killing committed during a robbery, kidnapping or rape.

Mitigating factors

They must then decide whether there are any mitigating factors that should be considered, such as a defendant's youth or troubled upbringing, and then determine whether the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating ones.

In Gaumer's case, the jury of six men and women did not unanimously agree on the existence of any mitigating circumstances other than one that lawyers from both sides agreed to at the sentencing hearing, that Gaumer had no prior convictions for violent crimes.

On the section of the verdict sheet for mitigating circumstances found by at least one juror but not all 12, the foreman listed Gaumer's lack of any criminal record, that the "murder was not planned in advance," the impact an execution would have on Gaumer's family and "mercy for [the] defendant."

Zaremba, the deputy district public defender for Baltimore County, said he thought the sentence might turn out in Gaumer's favor after hearing the list of factors considered by the jurors.

"When there were so many non-statutory mitigators found individually by each juror, it really would have shocked me if they had come back after just three hours [of deliberations] with death," he said. "It's a huge weight off our shoulders."

The defendant's mother, Janet Gaumer, said after the hearing: "Where there's life, there's hope. I'll never give up hope. Never."

Gaumer was convicted last week of first-degree murder and first-degree rape by the same jurors who decided his sentence. He tearfully begged the jury Tuesday afternoon to spare his life, saying he couldn't believe he "was capable of doing such a horrible thing."

Gaumer was a senior biochemistry major at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County at the time of the crime. A former college football player, he had never been arrested.

In his closing argument, Zaremba asked the jury to consider a wide-ranging list of 14 potentially mitigating factors. He quoted Shakespeare and the Ten Commandments. And he begged jurors not to pick up the stones that he said each juror would be required to throw for Gaumer to be executed.

"Punish him. Make sure he spends the rest of his life in a prison cell contemplating this horrible crime," Zaremba said. "But please, please spare his life."

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