Kansas City, Mo. A Jackson County judge began hearing evidence Monday to help him decide if Gary Beach, who killed five men in his Kansas City home, should live or die.
Beach, 59, pleaded guilty last month to five counts of first-degree murder for the city's worst killing spree in the 1990s. He will be sentenced April 18. Judge Charles Atwell has scheduled hearings through April 1 to decide whether to give Beach the death penalty or life in prison without parole for the 1999 slayings, which Beach said he committed in part to protect a friend from drugs and a stepson from shame.
Beach covered each body with an expensive quilt and an index card with their names and relatives' phone numbers. He also collected any evidence he thought would help police.
Prosecutors are trying to convince Atwell that the crime involved torture or depravity of mind; that it was done while Beach was engaged in other murders, and to prevent arrest; and that the victims were potential witnesses to crimes.
In pretrial hearings, Atwell told prosecutors he had doubts that some of the aggravating factors apply and wanted to see evidence.
Defense lawyers, trying to spare Beach's life, will say that three expert reports found Beach suffered from depression and an obsessive compulsive disorder when he killed.
Defense lawyers also will cite Beach's harsh childhood that they say included extreme poverty, family mental illness and sexual and physical abuse.
When he pleaded guilty Feb. 26, Beach told the court about the killings, which occurred between March 29 and April 1, 1999.
He said he became worried in 1999 that his failing eyesight would jeopardize the airport shuttle service he ran with his stepson and roommate, Michael Davis, 32. He said Davis was not good at administrative duties.
Another roommate, Mark Nelson, 28, appeared to be a good candidate to help out, but he began to smoke crack cocaine with Christopher Conrad, 27, of Overland Park, Kan., Beach said.
Beach told the court he was afraid Davis would be tempted to use drugs, so he decided to kill Conrad and then himself. But he said he could not bear the shame that would bring to Davis and Nelson.
Beach said he shot Nelson as the man told him about his drug use. He then killed Davis to spare him the shame, he said. He killed Conrad later that week when he arrived at Beach's house.
The next day Beach shot friend Jerry Nickerson, 61, who had entered the house with a key and found Nelson's body.
A day later, he shot friend Kenneth Gulley Jr., 45, who came to Beach's house, pulled out a crack cocaine pipe and mentioned a past sexual relationship he had with Beach's daughter, Beach said.
He said covering the bodies with a quilt was his way of saying good-bye.