Army captain gets life sentence for wife's murder
By FRANKLIN FISHER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 28, 2009
Related story: Victim's mother 'glad that justice for Lea was made'
DAEGU, South Korea — Army Capt. Christopher Gray was sentenced Thursday to life in prison with eligibility for parole for the murder of his wife, Lea Gray.
Gray, 38, was also sentenced to dismissal from the military, a reprimand, and forfeiture of all pay and allowances. He was convicted of premeditated murder and conduct unbecoming an officer after a jury of seven male Army officers deliberated about nine hours, beginning Wednesday and resuming Thursday morning.
The trial began Monday at Camp Henry in Daegu before military judge Col. Donna M. Wright.
Lea Gray’s decomposing, partly skeletonized body was found May 9 in a ditch in a wooded area about 4.5 miles east of Camp Carroll in Waegwan.
She died of a toxic dose of diphenydramine, which was contained in an over-the-counter medication that, prosecutors implied during the trial, Gray administered with an enema kit.
Prosecutors said Gray — who was previously married and divorced and then met Lea Gray through an Internet dating service while he was stationed in Sinai, Egypt — became fed up with her repeated adulteries and other strains in their marriage. He also concluded she’d married him so she could use him to get U.S. citizenship, prosecutors told the jury.
On April 11, Gray wrote to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services seeking to thwart his wife’s efforts to be granted citizenship, saying she lured him into a “sham marriage.”
But he had already begun planning his wife’s murder, the prosecutors contended.
After giving her the medication, he stuffed her in a suitcase and then drove to Waegwan and dumped her body, they told jurors.
Lea Gray was 27, from the Philippines, and had a daughter, Bianca Bahena, now 7. The child is living with her grandparents in the Philippines.
On the day of the murder, Gray kept the apartment door locked as he killed his wife; Bianca, then 6, had been unable to get in, prosecutors said.
The child occupied herself cavorting with friends and taking repeated elevator trips. The trips were caught on elevator camera video that was shown at the trial.
Late that night, the same camera recorded Gray trying to maneuver a heavy-looking suitcase down the elevator and out to his Nissan Maxima.
Later footage shows him carrying the sleeping Bianca onto the elevator and into the car that contained her mother’s body.
After disposing of his wife’s body, Gray returned with Bianca to the apartment.
South Korean traffic cameras picked up Gray’s car at key points in his drive to and from Waegwan.
”He dumped her body like she was a piece of garbage,” prosecutor Capt. Kevin Hynes told jurors in a pre-sentencing argument. “When Capt. Gray was dumping her in that ditch, little Bianca was sleeping” in the car, Hynes said. “Never again will she hear her mother’s voice; never again will she feel her mother’s embrace.”
Saying that many girls eventually get to share milestone events with their mothers — graduation from school, a first boyfriend, marriage, perhaps motherhood — “Bianca will never be able to do that with her mother,” Hynes said.
He asked jurors to sentence Gray to the maximum allowable penalty, life without eligibility for parole.
In the defense’s pre-sentencing argument, assistant civilian defense attorney Brian Tomasovic asked jurors to spare Gray the maximum and instead sentence him to life with eligibility for parole.
“This is a case where Capt. Gray faced great personal turmoil ... rage, anger, and these are human emotions. ... This is not the kind of case where you need to go the extra step of life without eligibility for parole,” Tomasovic said.
Before the jury weighed its sentence, Gray’s sister and mother testified that he had been a good son and elder brother in a household without a father, and was the family’s first college graduate.
“He was a great older brother,” said Aneesa Gray, 27, of St. Louis. “I really don’t know where I would be without him in my life. He was also a father figure for me … to lend a shoulder.”
As she spoke, Christopher Gray swallowed hard several times and appeared to be fighting back tears.
Gray’s mother, Brenda Gray, said she’d held her son’s hand during recesses in the trial. Both women said they loved him despite his conviction.
After the judge sent the jury to deliberate a sentence, Lea Gray’s mother, Marilyn Bahena, and her daughter Celeste, 29, cried silently. Christopher Gray’s mother reached over and patted Marilyn Bahena consolingly.
Throughout the trial, Gray had maintained a blank expression and had sat almost immobile, rarely stirring. He broke his demeanor in the courtroom for the first time Wednesday when he laughed at a remark someone made to him during a recess.
On Thursday, while awaiting the jury’s verdict, he was seen smiling several times.
But when the jury president announced the guilty verdict, Gray’s face seemed to sag slightly under the blow.
E-mail Franklin Fisher at: email@example.com