A Baltimore County jury convicted former UMBC student John C. Gaumer of murder and rape yesterday in the beating death and sexual assault of a woman he had met online, capping four days of evidence and testimony that a prosecutor acknowledged to jurors was as shocking as it was graphic.
The verdicts - announced to a packed courtroom about 4:30 p.m. after jurors deliberated for less than five hours - set up a capital sentencing hearing scheduled to begin Monday. With the jury convicting Gaumer of both first-degree murder and first-degree rape - a charge that serves as an "aggravating circumstance" under Maryland's death penalty statute - prosecutors will seek a death sentence.
Gaumer, 23, repeatedly flexed his jaw and a tear ran down his cheek as guilty verdicts were read. After the six women and six men of the jury filed out of the courtroom, Gaumer and his parents broke down. Defense attorney Gayle L. Robinson put an arm around her client while wiping away her own tears.
"John, I love you, man. I love you, son," Christopher Gaumer shouted as five sheriff's deputies escorted the 6-foot-6 former college football player out of court.
Across the courtroom, family members of the victim, Josie P. Brown, sat quietly beside Carroll Bollinger, the Baltimore County police detective who led the investigation into the woman's death. Teresa Brown said earlier this week that she would not comment on the trial until she has a chance to offer a victim impact statement at the sentencing of her daughter's killer.
Brown, 27, of Hampden was last seen by her roommates about 7 p.m. on Dec. 29, 2005, as she left for a date with a man she had met just hours earlier on MySpace.com, a social networking site. But when she failed to show up for a planned outing with her sister the next day and did not respond to messages that quickly filled up the mailbox of her cell phone, Brown's family reported her missing.
When police initially questioned Gaumer - whose cell phone number appeared on the Dec. 29 and Dec. 30 call logs of Brown's phone records - he told investigators that he had dropped her off at her house after their first date and had driven back to his campus apartment at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
The cell phone records, however, indicated otherwise, according to trial testimony. The call logs showed that both Gaumer and Brown's phones were moving south through Baltimore and toward Arbutus at a time when Gaumer told police he was dropping the woman off in Hampden after their date in the Mount Vernon and Station North Arts District neighborhoods of the city.
Although Gaumer would later admit to police that he raped and beat Brown to death - first with his fists and then with a piece of wood - after she changed her mind about going home with him, it was phone records that initially led investigators to the senior biochemistry major who had never been arrested and who still drove to Southern Maryland every Friday for dinner with his parents.
Forty days after their date, Gaumer led detectives to Brown's naked body in a wooded ravine, just down an embankment from the interchange at Interstate 95 and the Baltimore Beltway near Arbutus.
Defense attorneys did not dispute that Gaumer killed Brown. Rather, they argued to jurors that the beating did not constitute first-degree murder and that medical evidence from Brown's autopsy did not support their client's account to detectives that he had sexually assaulted the woman with a stick.
During her closing argument yesterday morning, Robinson told jurors that Gaumer had spent more than 16 hours in custody by the time he was questioned by detectives at Baltimore County police headquarters and began to embellish his account after repeated inquires as to whether he raped Brown.
"If someone came at you like that, you'd begin to wonder, 'What do they want?'" Robinson said.
Robinson also told jurors that the killing was not premeditated murder. "There was no reflection," she said. "There was no way to think about it and to stop."
Prosecutor S. Ann Brobst disagreed. In her closing argument, she acknowledged that jurors had seen four days of graphic testimony and characterized the amount of evidence against Gaumer as "astronomical."
In addition to Gaumer's videotaped confession to police detectives, whose work Brobst characterized as "letter perfect" in the case, prosecutors presented DNA evidence of Brown's blood in the defendant's car and on a piece of wood a police dog located near the woman's body. They also played a chilling 42-second phone message recorded when Gaumer's cell phone inadvertently dialed Brown's.
"All of us in the courtroom listened - because we had to - to just a small portion of Josie's brutal beating death," Brobst said of the phone message, which captured thumping noises, shouting and brief bursts of a woman's muffled screams.
Brobst also offered an explanation for the discrepancy between Gaumer's claims that he sexually assaulted Brown with a stick and the medical examiner's findings that there were no apparent injuries to the woman's genital area.
"He was pounding on her in the manner he described," but not to the areas of Brown's body he thought he had hit, Brobst told jurors. She reminded them of the substantial bruising and injuries on Brown's inner thighs and lower abdomen.
"It was so dark," Brobst said, that Gaumer told police what he mistakenly thought he had done.
Similarly, Brobst said, Gaumer described slicing off all of Brown's fingertips, cutting out her jawbone and ripping her nose off to keep her from being identified. But the medical examiner testified that while Brown was missing all of the fingertips of her left hand, she was missing only two on her right .
"That's also something he thinks he did - but not quite," Brobst said.
Lawyers in the case are scheduled to return to court today to handle presentencing motions and to determine whether Gaumer wants to be sentenced by a judge or jury.
If he elects a jury, the same men and women who convicted him will decide whether he should be sentenced to death or to life in prison without parole. If Gaumer chooses a judge, he will be sentenced by Baltimore County Circuit Judge Mickey J. Norman, who presided over the capital trial.