Jurors: Bashara lifestyle not factor
Detroit — Prosecutors painted Robert Bashara as a lying, cheating manipulator who betrayed his family, and people in both his Grosse Pointe social circles and the sex dungeons he frequented — but none of that swayed the men and women who found him guilty of first-degree murder, according to two jurors who met with the media on Tuesday.
After 10 weeks of jury selection and testimony, Bashara was sentenced last week to life in prison for orchestrating the Jan. 24, 2012 slaying of his wife, Jane, paying his handyman, Joseph Gentz, to strangle her in their garage.
Prosecutors said Bashara wanted his wife dead so he could immerse himself in a bondage, discipline and sadomasochism lifestyle with his longtime girlfriend, Rachel Gillett. But jury foreman Bill Mohney of Wyandotte, and Regis Johnson of Detroit said the often salacious details that came out during testimony about Bashara’s sexual practices had little to do with their verdict.
“The majority of the testimony did not paint a very flattering picture of Bashara,” said Mohney, a scuba diving instructor. “But … my opinion of the man has nothing to do with determining whether he did or did not do something that he deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison for.”
Added Johnson: “I didn’t find a direct correlation between his lifestyle and his ability to commit murder. I think what was more important was, once the picture was painted of him, he came across as a narcissistic sociopath, which had nothing to do with his sexual practices.”
Both jurors said the testimony of Lorna Beth Riikonen, who had met Gentz on an online dating site, was one of the strongest reasons they voted to convict. Riikonen testified that Gentz told her someone named “Basher Basher” was going to pay him to kill someone.
“Gentz had just spilled his guts,” Mohney said. “In my opinion, he was trying to impress her.”
Evidence of phone calls Bashara made to Gentz in the weeks leading up to the killing was also convincing, said Johnson, an unemployed marketing executive.
“Mr. Bashara had called Mr. Gentz 22 times before Mrs. Bashara became missing,” Johnson said. “So it was showing they had some type of relationship.”
The trial was often marked by lurid, sometimes outrageous testimony, and featured more levity than is usually seen in murder trials. Through it all, the two jurors said they tried to stay focused on the victim.
“I thought about (Jane Bashara) quite a bit,” Mohney said. “The length of the trial, and the amount of testimony, and the witnesses, and evidence — I had to remind myself that this was about a lady that was murdered.”
Johnson said Jane Bashara’s personality came out during the trial. “I thought that the witnesses painted a pretty good picture of who Mrs. Bashara was: That she was loved. It’s just unfortunate that she didn’t recognize that she was with a sociopath. Love is blind.”
During his sentencing hearing, Bashara said he thought his attorneys should have introduced more evidence of his philanthropic work with the Rotary Club and other organizations. But Johnson said that wouldn’t have swayed him.
“Just like I didn’t think his sexual life was a factor in it, I didn’t think that him being a socialite, or the work he did with the Rotary Club would’ve have an effect,” he said. “It was still the evidence that was there that was overwhelmingly in the direction of convicting him.”
Mohney said he kept an eye Bashara during the trial. “He was very unemotional when his kids were on the stand, and he seemed to conveniently cry at key points,” he said. “I thought he was faking.
“I think he was used to having other people clean up his messes for him, and in no way, shape or form did he think he would ever feel he would be responsible,” Mohney said. “That goes back to his sentencing, where he was blaming everyone but himself.”
After testimony was over, the jurors deliberated less than three full days before rendering a guilty verdict. Mohney and Johnson said there wasn’t much question among jurors as to Bashara’s guilt, although they said the first thing they did after the trial was to decompress.
“The entire two-and-a-half months, none of us actually talked about this case while we were in this room,” Mohney said. (After testimony was over), the first couple hours of deliberation, it was just us venting about the case.”
Added Johnson: “It was 15 remarkable jurors. We come from all different walks of life. But what we shared in common, we couldn’t talk about. But when we finally got a chance to decompress … it was interesting.”
Once the jurors began discussing the evidence, they spent most of their time weighing the charge of conspiracy to commit murder, Johnson and Mohney said.
“If we didn’t have the conspiracy charge, we couldn’t possibly move forward with second-degree or first-degree murder,” Johnson said. “Mr. Bashara didn’t physically do it, so how he would’ve been charged was conspiring to do it. So we struggled with that for a while.”
Jurors are planning to get together for a reunion later this month. “Sometimes we might have gotten a little excited, but we hugged it out,” Johnson said. “I could not have shared this experience with 15 more awesome people. We spent 90 percent of our time laughing.”
Mohney also said he was impressed with his fellow jurors.
“God forbid if I ever find myself in a situation where I’m on the defense side of the courtroom, I hope that there’s a jury like the one we had,” he said.