Black Magic Cited in Md. Killings

ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) — Josephine Gray had a different style of cooking — one that involved a collection of powders, roots, and teas she kept hidden in her bedroom.

After some people ate her concoctions, acquaintances say, Gray gained so much power over them that they would do her bidding — perhaps even kill for her.

``She's an evil witch-doer. She has a long history of witchcraft,'' said Lenron Goode Jr. His brother Clarence Goode, a boyfriend of Gray's, was found shot and stuffed in a trunk.

Authorities allege Gray enticed lovers to kill Goode and two husbands in order to collect thousands of dollars in insurance money, and used threats of voodoo to keep witnesses quiet.

Gray, 55, was charged Jan. 4 with two counts of first-degree murder in Montgomery County, where prosecutors dubbed her a ``black widow,'' after the female version of the venomous spider that kills its mates. Baltimore police are investigating the third death.

Gray's attorneys say the new cases just dredge up old charges dropped long ago. She is not a ``black widow,'' they say.

``It is unfortunate that sensationalized labels like that are being distributed to the potential jury pool,'' said federal public defender Daniel Stiller.

Previous charges had been dropped against Gray in two of the deaths after key witnesses disappeared.

According to court documents, Gray enlisted the help of each successive husband and boyfriend to commit murder on her behalf, first in 1974, then in 1990 and 1996. The second and third victims were suspected of killing the husbands who came before them.

Gray is in jail awaiting a federal trial on earlier charges of fraud for allegedly masterminding the three deaths to collect the insurance money. She has pleaded innocent.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow denied bail on the fraud charges, saying evidence that Gray took part in three killings and tried to intimidate family members made her a potential threat if released before trial.

Voodoo dolls of her dead lovers festooned with needles were found by authorities, prosecutors said. And a police wiretap of Gray recorded her allegedly casting spells on investigators.

Witnesses who refused to testify each time Gray was given bail in the previous cases say they were scared by a history of threats and voodoo spells leveled at anyone she thought might cross her.

``Fear permeated this case,'' said Thomas Tamm, a former Montgomery prosecutor who tried to bring Gray to trial in 1991.

``There is manipulation and fear by her and if you don't heed it, your life is in jeopardy,'' said the ex-wife of Gray's son, Bernard Stribbling. She asked not to be identified by name because she fears for her children's safety.

On March 4, 1974, Gray's first husband, Norman Stribbling, was shot to death. Gray collected $16,000 from his life insurance policy.

She and her then-boyfriend, William Robert Gray, were charged with murder, but those charges were dropped after witnesses failed to testify. The two eventually married.

William Gray was found dead Nov. 9, 1990, shortly after an accidental death policy was issued in his name. Police charged Josephine Gray and her boyfriend, Clarence Goode, with murder, but the charges were again dropped because key witnesses did not testify. Gray received $50,000 in insurance payments for his death.

Goode was killed on June 21, 1996, in Baltimore and Gray received $95,000 from his insurance policy.

According to court documents, Stribbling's children asked detectives in August 1990 to reopen the investigation, saying they believed their mother was responsible for their father's death and that she was planning on murdering their stepfather.

William Gray himself told police in October 1990 that he believed his wife was planning to kill him, court documents said. His body was found in his home a month later.

Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas Gansler said he decided to press the murder charges this month after several witnesses agreed to testify when they learned Gray would remain in jail pending her federal trial.

The witness list may include Goode's current boyfriend, Andre Savoy, who prosecutors said was at risk if Gray was released before her trial.

But prosecutors may run into trouble if they put those witnesses on the stand, said Tamm. Most gave statements to police only to recant later, shedding doubt on their credibility, he said.

``Any defense attorney would cross-examine a witness about saying one thing at one time and a different thing at another time,'' he said.

That worries some people who know and fear Gray, including Bernard Stribbling's ex-wife.

``If she ever gets out, there are a lot of people who are going to turn up dead,'' she said.

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