AUSTIN, Texas -- Federal prosecutors never produced any bodies but still persuaded a jury to convict the only man charged in the disappearance of missing atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair and her family.
Gary Paul Karr, 52, was found guilty Friday of four charges involving extorting money from the O'Hairs. He was acquitted on a charge of conspiring to kidnap, but still faces life in prison under the so-called federal ''three strikes'' law because of prior convictions. Sentencing was set for Aug. 4.
O'Hair, her son Jon Garth Murray and granddaughter Robin Murray O'Hair disappeared from San Antonio in 1995 along with $500,000 in gold coins. Authorities believe they were killed and dismembered, though their bodies were never found.
''There were a lot of missing pieces to the puzzle ... bodies for one, a smoking gun,'' juror Jeff Sloan said after the verdicts were read.
During the two-week trial, prison inmates testified that Karr told them he was involved in the slayings, and federal agents presented hundreds of telephone calls, car rentals, airplane trips and other financial transactions they said implicated Karr in the kidnapping and extortion.
However, two defense witnesses testified they saw O'Hair alive during the time prosecutors say she was kidnapped or killed -- during the summer or fall of 1995 in a San Antonio bar and in a restaurant in Romania in 1997.
Karr's attorney, Tom Mills, questioned the consistency of the verdict and suggested Karr would appeal.
''It seems like their theory was kidnapping and murder,'' Mills said. ''It seems now we have no kidnapping and murder.''
An outspoken atheist, O'Hair reveled in calling herself the most hated woman in America. She was involved in successful court battles in the 1960s to remove prayer and Bible-reading from the nation's public schools. Suffering from diabetes and heart disease, she was America's most prominent unbeliever -- a combative foe of all organized religion -- when she vanished at age 77.
She wasn't reported missing for a year, not until her estranged son, William Murray, called Austin police.
Authorities questioned whether all three were victims of foul play or merely ran off with the money from their atheist organization, United Secularists of America.
William Murray said he felt vindicated by the verdict.
''We dogged this thing for years while authorities were laughing at us telling us there was no case,'' he said. ''I understand there was a lack of physical evidence. That's a direct result of the police not doing anything.''
Prosecutors argued during the trial that O'Hair and her family were held against their will and forced to transfer $600,000 from a New Zealand trust fund to a San Antonio coin dealer.
Karr, who didn't testify, gave authorities a statement in which he acknowledged acting as an errand boy and bodyguard for the family during the last few weeks they were known to be alive.
Prosecutors presented evidence showing Karr traveled under an assumed name to New Jersey with O'Hair's son to transfer the money to the coin dealer. While all the cash was converted to gold coins, only $500,000 worth was picked up. The family disappeared soon afterward.
Prosecutors showed Karr also was with the O'Hairs in San Antonio shortly before their disappearance, when the family was making cash withdrawals on credit cards, and that he was sending large checks to his own family and friends in Florida.
Much of the trial centered on David Waters, the O'Hairs' former office manager and the suspected mastermind behind the scheme. He had met Karr while in prison. A convicted murderer, Waters pleaded guilty to stealing $54,000 from O'Hair's organizations and is now serving 60 years in prison on weapons charges.
Waters has maintained his innocence and has not been charged. Another suspect, Danny Fry, was found beheaded in 1995 shortly after the O'Hairs disappeared.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gerald Carruth said an investigation was continuing into Karr's alleged accomplices.
Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists Inc., founded by O'Hair, said the verdict would help bring closure, adding, ''There was no doubt in our mind the man was guilty.''
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