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'Black Widow' gets 40-year sentence

Woman convicted of mail, wire fraud in deaths of 3 lovers

By Stephen Manning
The Associated Press

December 2, 2002, 1:43 PM EST

GREENBELT -- A woman dubbed the "Black Widow" by prosecutors was sentenced today to 40 years in prison for collecting life insurance proceeds on three slain lovers after allegedly using voodoo to keep witnesses silent.

Josephine Gray, 55, received the maximum sentence from U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow for the eight counts of mail and wire fraud she was convicted of in August. Gray was also ordered to repay $170,000 to the insurance companies she defrauded.

The Upper Marlboro woman now faces a possible murder trial in Montgomery County on charges filed against her in January. Gray escaped two previous attempts to prosecute her when witnesses refused to testify.

Although Gray wasn't tried on murder charges in federal court, Chasanow ruled that the killings were part of Gray's scheme to cheat insurance companies. That factor increased the maximum penalty from roughly two years -- a penalty Chasanow said was "woefully inadequate" -- to 40 years.

"Clearly, in this case the murders were done in connection with these offenses," Chasanow said.

Gray, who sat slumped between her lawyers, showed no emotion as the verdict was read. She gave a statement through her public defender, Daniel Stiller, maintaining her innocence.

"(She) gives her faith in God as a higher power who knows she has committed no offense or done anything wrong," Stiller said.

Gray will appeal the verdict, Stiller said.

Prosecutors said Gray, the matriarch of a large Germantown family, held sway over her relatives through threats of violence and voodoo magic.

Her two husbands were shot to death; Norman Stribbling was murdered in 1974 and William Gray was killed in 1990. Gray collected $15,000 from Stribbling's death and $51,000 for William Gray.

Clarence Goode, her in-live boyfriend, was shot and stuffed in the trunk of a car in Baltimore in 1996. That killing netted Gray $95,000.

Montgomery prosecutors said she enlisted the help of her successive paramours to kill her current lovers, dubbing her the "Black Widow," after the female version of the venomous spider that kills its mates.

Relatives consistently refused to testify against Gray, who allegedly used spells and dolls resembling family members to keep them from speaking out. Court documents show dolls pierced with pins were found in her home and a wiretap picked up Gray placing a curse on a police investigator.

"Ms. Gray was manipulative and acted only on her desires to get rid of people she no longer had use for," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra Wilkinson.

William Gray's relatives filled one side of the courtroom, and several said after the sentencing they were happy Josephine Gray would no longer be able to torment the family.

"It was a long time coming, and I'm glad it's over with," said Frances Gray, William Gray’s former wife.

Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler said county prosecutors will meet with the victims' families and review the federal case before deciding whether to try Gray on two counts of first-degree murder. Goode's body was found in Baltimore, so Gray can't be prosecuted in Montgomery.

"Given that this sentence ensures she will die in prison, we'll determine if it is appropriate to go forward," Gansler said.

Copyright © 2002, The Associated Press

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