Lifelong criminal Gary Paul Karr was sentenced to life in prison today for extorting money from missing atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair and her family, and his role in what prosecutors called an elaborate robbery and murder scheme.
Karr, 52, was convicted in June of extorting more than $600,000 from O’Hair, her son Jon Garth Murray and granddaughter Robin Murray O’Hair. The trio have been missing since 1995.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks sentenced Karr to a mandatory life sentence under the federal “three strikes” law, which penalizes repeat violent offenders.
“It appears Mr. Karr has struck out,” said federal prosecutor Gerald Carruth after sentencing.
Bodies Still Missing Karr’s criminal history dates to 1966 with convictions for armed robbery, aggravated kidnapping and indecent liberties with a child. He had been released from a 20-year prison term just a few months before the O’Hair family disappeared.
Investigators say the missing atheist family was kidnapped, killed and dismembered. Their remains have never been found.
Although investigators have identified other suspects and say the case remains open, Karr was the only person charged.
Sparks gave Karr another life sentence for traveling across state lines to commit a violent act. Karr also received two 10-year terms for committing a criminal act to gain financially and interstate transportation of stolen property. All of the sentences will be served concurrently.
Sparks ordered Karr to pay $543,665 to the missing atheists’ estates and United Secularist of America, one of O’Hair’s atheist groups, as restitution.
The Roots of Appeal Karr’s attorneys Tom Mills and Christie Williams of Dallas, said they will appeal Karr’s conviction and sentence. Karr did not address the court, letting Mills speak for him instead.
“He has expressed his opinion that the prosecutors viewed his role incorrectly,” Mills told Sparks.
In 1995, Karr traveled from Texas to New Jersey with Jon Garth Murray to transfer $600,000 from a bank account to a San Antonio coin dealer. Soon afterward Murray converted the cash into gold coins, the atheists were never heard from again.
Prosecutors also showed Karr was with the O’Hair family in San Antonio when family members were making cash withdrawals on credit cards. Prosecutors also showed he was sending large checks to family and friends in Florida.
Sparks dismissed defense attorneys’ arguments that questioned whether the three strikes law applied in Karr’s case.
The attorneys said there were questions whether there was force involved in Karr’s conviction of indecency with a child, and whether or not a gun was used in some of his previous robbery convictions. The attorneys also argued that federal sentencing guidelines are unconstitutional.
“Take it up with your congressman,” retorted Sparks, who at times seemed frustrated and annoyed by the defense arguments.
Satisfied Jurors Karr was convicted in June after a three-week trial during which jurors deliberated four days before returning a verdict. Although he was convicted of extortion and the other charges, he was acquitted of conspiring to kidnap the atheist family.
Several jurors returned to the courtroom today to watch the sentencing.
“I’m very satisfied,” said juror Jeff Sloan, who said he believes the O’Hair family was killed.
“I was pretty amazed at the details of his prior record,” Sloan said. “To hear them detailed out was pretty terrifying.”