Man Gets Life in Missing Atheist Case

ByJim Vertuno

A U S T I N, Texas, Aug. 17, 2000 -- Lifelong criminal Gary Paul Karr was sentenced tolife in prison today for extorting money from missing atheistMadalyn Murray O’Hair and her family, and his role in whatprosecutors called an elaborate robbery and murder scheme.

Karr, 52, was convicted in June of extorting more than $600,000from O’Hair, her son Jon Garth Murray and granddaughter RobinMurray O’Hair. The trio have been missing since 1995.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks sentenced Karr to a mandatorylife sentence under the federal “three strikes” law, whichpenalizes repeat violent offenders.

“It appears Mr. Karr has struck out,” said federal prosecutorGerald Carruth after sentencing.

Bodies Still MissingKarr’s criminal history dates to 1966 with convictions for armedrobbery, aggravated kidnapping and indecent liberties with a child.He had been released from a 20-year prison term just a few monthsbefore 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 saythe case remains open, Karr was the only person charged.

Sparks gave Karr another life sentence for traveling acrossstate lines to commit a violent act. Karr also received two 10-yearterms for committing a criminal act to gain financially andinterstate transportation of stolen property. All of the sentenceswill 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 atheistgroups, as restitution.

The Roots of AppealKarr’s attorneys Tom Mills and Christie Williams of Dallas, saidthey will appeal Karr’s conviction and sentence. Karr did notaddress the court, letting Mills speak for him instead.

“He has expressed his opinion that the prosecutors viewed hisrole incorrectly,” Mills told Sparks.

In 1995, Karr traveled from Texas to New Jersey with Jon GarthMurray to transfer $600,000 from a bank account to a San Antoniocoin dealer. Soon afterward Murray converted the cash into goldcoins, the atheists were never heard from again.

Prosecutors also showed Karr was with the O’Hair family in SanAntonio when family members were making cash withdrawals on creditcards. Prosecutors also showed he was sending large checks tofamily and friends in Florida.

Sparks dismissed defense attorneys’ arguments that questionedwhether the three strikes law applied in Karr’s case.

The attorneys said there were questions whether there was forceinvolved in Karr’s conviction of indecency with a child, andwhether or not a gun was used in some of his previous robberyconvictions. The attorneys also argued that federal sentencingguidelines are unconstitutional.

“Take it up with your congressman,” retorted Sparks, who attimes seemed frustrated and annoyed by the defense arguments.

Satisfied JurorsKarr was convicted in June after a three-week trial during whichjurors deliberated four days before returning a verdict. Althoughhe was convicted of extortion and the other charges, he wasacquitted of conspiring to kidnap the atheist family.

Several jurors returned to the courtroom today to watch thesentencing.

“I’m very satisfied,” said juror Jeff Sloan, who said hebelieves 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.”

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