Texas Jury Convicts
Man in O'Hair Disappearance
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A jury Friday found Gary Karr guilty of four out of five criminal counts linked to the 1995 disappearance of atheist leader Madalyn Murray O'Hair.
Karr, a 52-year-old career criminal, faces a life sentence for his part in an alleged plot with two other men to kidnap and rob $500,000 in gold coins from the woman who led the successful 1960s legal battle to ban prayer in U.S. public schools.
O'Hair has not been seen since the crime and is believed to have been killed by the plotters, prosecutors said.
The jury, which deliberated for four days and earlier Friday said it could not reach a verdict, acquitted Karr of conspiring to kidnap O'Hair and her two adult children, but convicted him of conspiring to commit extortion and three lesser charges linked to the crime.
Karr, who is currently jailed on weapons charges, will be sentenced on Aug. 4 by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks. He has at least three previous felony convictions, making a life sentence mandatory under the so-called ``three strikes and you're out'' federal law.
Prosecutors accused Karr, David Waters and Danny Fry of kidnapping O'Hair, son Jon Garth Murray and daughter Robin Murray O'Hair in September 1995, and forcing them to hand over the coins, cars and other items before killing and dismembering them.
Their bodies were not found, so no murder charges have been filed in the case. Prosecutors said evidence indicated their remains were stuffed in barrels and dumped on a remote ranch in southwest Texas where floods or animals likely carried them away.
They said the plotters stashed the gold coins in a storage shed in Austin, but that burglars stole them a few days later and went on a wild spending spree.
Defense attorneys argued there was no proof of murder and said O'Hair, 77 at the time of her disappearance, may have fled the country with the gold coins to escape scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service. They said she might still be alive and put on a defense witness who testified he saw O'Hair in Romania in 1997.
O'Hair, a long-time Austin resident, headed the ``American Atheists'' group and was outspoken and combative in her fight to keep church and state separate. She often called herself ``the most hated woman in America'' because of her anti-religion beliefs.
Waters was her former office manager who pleaded guilty to robbing her organization of $54,000 in 1994. Prosecutors charged he was the mastermind of the plot that ended in O'Hair's suspected death, but he has not been charged directly in the case.
He is serving a 60-year sentence for possessing weapons while he was out of jail on parole for the 1994 theft. Police found the weapons while searching his apartment for clues in the O'Hair disappearance.
Fry, the other alleged accomplice, was found dead near Dallas in October 1995, his head and hands chopped off.
The four-woman, eight-man jury in the case told Sparks earlier Friday that they could not reach the required unanimous verdict on all five counts against Karr. But Sparks ordered them to continue deliberations that were ultimately successful.


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