Shot At Redemption
Looking at him, you'd never know.
The cocaine, the heroin, the meth, the whiskey. The days on end with no sleep, just one big roll after another, from one bar to the next with the pager going off at all hours and the hours themselves without meaning -- time flies when you're having fun. The strippers, fast motorcycles, the vagabond life -- all that is gone now. Left behind like a kaleidoscope after the child grows up.
At 41, Gordon Lederer has finally grown up. Sitting in the Madison Street Jail on a Friday morning in early March, he is the picture of serenity, like Andy in The Shawshank Redemption.
Only Lederer really did do it.
He looks you straight in the eye. Self-deprecating, but not overly so, just enough so you know he's earnest. He sounds at ease, occasionally smiling and answering what questions his attorney will allow in a calm, even voice. He's changed a lot since 1993. "The person I was then, I don't recognize," says the prisoner known as Preacher in the pod where he's lived for nearly a year.
His cellmate overdosed on drugs a few weeks ago. Floods from overflowing toilets are just regular life. He often gives away what's on his food tray, surviving on Smack Ramen from the commissary and spending his days reading the Bible.
Gordon Lederer had everything to live for -- a well-paying job, a nice house, a loving family -- and he threw it all away. For prison. For, perhaps, the rest of his life.
That's the price of making peace with God.
By Christmas Day, 1993, Judee Patton was seriously worried.
She hadn't heard from her daughter Monique MacDonald in a week. At 26, MacDonald wasn't the most responsible person, but it wasn't like her to let Christmas pass without visiting or calling. She lived within walking distance and didn't own a car.
MacDonald worked for escort services, performing nude dances for clients, usually in the privacy of hotel rooms where men were free to masturbate. She told her mother, who sometimes drove her to appointments, that her clients never touched her. MacDonald could make good money -- as much as $600 on a single call -- but she hadn't worked much in recent months due to a dalliance with methamphetamine that had her owing money to drug dealers and her landlord. She couldn't even pay her utilities.
After several unreturned telephone messages, Patton called Phoenix police the day after Christmas. An officer told her to check her daughter's house. If she found anything unusual, police would investigate. Otherwise, she'd have to wait a bit longer to file a missing-persons report.
Patton walked through the residence gathering up mail, address books and anything else that might help locate MacDonald. At first, the only thing that seemed strange was her bed. It was neatly made, completely out of character for a woman who left laundry scattered on the floor and loathed washing dishes. Kenneth Murphy, MacDonald's boyfriend, visited the next day and called the cops after finding a .22-caliber shell casing on her bedroom floor.
That was enough to launch a full-scale police investigation.
While looking for bullet holes, an officer spotted blood spattered on a wall above the casing. Police found MacDonald's house key under a pile of clothing and summoned a photographer. Luminol testing revealed several blood spots in her bedroom, which someone had obviously tried to clean up.
MacDonald's body was already in the county morgue as a Jane Doe, found dumped in the desert near Carefree on Christmas Eve. Police confirmed the identity hours after finding the blood spatters.
This wasn't an ordinary killing. Before shooting her to death, the killer had wrapped MacDonald's head in duct tape.
There were any number of suspects beyond her clients.
Murphy, who worked as an office clerk and freelance photographer, wasn't a model boyfriend. He'd had at least one affair, according to Patton, who also told officers that his relationship with her daughter had been violent. Murphy said MacDonald's taste for methamphetamine had become a source of constant friction. Within the past month, he'd given her a choice: either him or drugs. He also didn't like her dancing naked in front of strangers. She wasn't able to break away from meth, nor did Murphy cut things off. Instead, the pair argued.
There was also a guy named Gordon.
Patton told police she didn't know his last name, but Gordon had arrived at MacDonald's house about the same time she did a week before Christmas, the last time she'd seen her daughter. Patton had come to borrow a coat. She didn't know why Gordon was there, only that he asked her daughter if he could borrow the phone. "You know where it is," her daughter said, as if he had been there before. He was still on the telephone when Patton left after less than five minutes inside the house.
Murphy said he'd last spoken with MacDonald at 6:30 p.m. on December 18, 1993, about a half-hour before Patton borrowed the coat. MacDonald had been excited about a date the two had made for later that evening. But when Murphy called back two hours later and said her name, the person on the other end of the phone hung up. That was about an hour after Patton left the house.
Gordon, by all appearances, was the last person seen with MacDonald before she disappeared.
Police soon figured out that Gordon's full name was Gordon Lee Lederer. He'd gone to prison for armed robbery in 1984. His estranged wife had been MacDonald's roommate, but had moved out about four months before she disappeared. Patton told police that Murphy told her that Lederer had beaten his wife, who kept a .22-caliber pistol for protection. And, according to Murphy, Lederer had supplied MacDonald with meth and given her at least $1,000 to finance a drug deal shortly before she disappeared. She had to either come up with the drugs or give the money back. Lederer had left a few brief messages on her answering machine before she disappeared, typically saying he'd call back, never with a hint of anything amiss.
Detectives interviewed Lederer, but found Murphy especially suspicious.
He'd called MacDonald at all hours and sometimes several times a day, even before she vanished. He sounded like a jealous, obsessed boyfriend. He suspected she was sleeping around. A woman who owned an escort service told detectives that Murphy had called shortly after MacDonald's disappearance, saying she was missing. He said he would pick up a VCR and a coat that MacDonald had left with the escort-service owner, as if he knew she was dead even before her body was found. The owner also said MacDonald had told her that Murphy had assaulted her three times.
Murphy showed up for his interview with detectives wearing a necklace that belonged to MacDonald. He was also carrying her pager. The necklace, he explained, was collateral for a loan. He said she'd given him the pager on December 16, then changed his story and said it was actually two days later -- the day MacDonald disappeared. Murphy interrupted the interview to call a friend, who told him that MacDonald's body had been found.
Police were not impressed by Murphy's reaction. "After hanging up, Ken was trying to show some type of emotional expression on his face, but wasn't very convincing," a detective wrote. "He had no look of surprise nor of grief at any time after learning that Monique was dead."
He became the prime suspect.
"He was kind of the machismo kind of guy and pretty much controlled her," recalls Phoenix police detective Eleuterio Fragoso, the primary investigator. "A lot of stuff didn't add up, so that's why I suspected him more than anyone else. One of the things was that the house was in such a clean state at the time we entered. It was just too neat and well-organized. It was hard to find the drops of blood we did find. That's what threw us off completely. It had to be somebody that she knew. And because the boyfriend was so controlling, she wouldn't have had any visitors or suitors."
Besides Murphy and Lederer, detectives questioned Homer Townsend, a disabled veteran whom Murphy and Patton identified as one of MacDonald's clients. Townsend insists that's not true: "I did not know she was an escort," he says today. He says he was playing pool in a wheelchair-only league when he met MacDonald in a bar about two months before her death. When he asked her how she ended up there, she answered, "This is as far as I could get a ride." She was a gorgeous woman but a tragic figure, a shade over five feet tall and about 100 pounds, drinking alone and writing in a notebook. It didn't take long to figure out she was deeply troubled.
"She was sitting up there talking to herself -- not a soul around," Townsend says. "She would be talking about something and she'd say 'Hold on for a second,' and she'd write in this journal -- she'd say 'I'm sorry, I just thought of something.' After about an hour, you realized the rubber band inside her head had been stretched too many times. You could tell that she had either a drinking problem or a drug problem. She said a lot of things -- just threw them right out there. She said, 'I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but can I trust you?' I said, 'What do you mean by that?' She said, 'You're in a wheelchair. I could get away from you very easily if I needed to.'"
MacDonald talked about being afraid of a biker, but never mentioned his name, Townsend says. She asked where he usually shot pool; he told her the name of the bar. She was there a week later and about four other times on pool night, and Townsend would give her a ride home. He once glanced at her journal while she was in the restroom. "She was writing a poem," he says. "It was a real morbid kind of poem, about death and that kind of stuff. And about having no feelings."
Townsend says he told detectives that MacDonald was afraid of a biker when they interviewed him, about a year after her death. "The woman [detective] shook her head like she didn't believe me," he recalls. "They thought I wasn't telling them something, or they thought I was holding something back."
MacDonald had a lot of friends, but they were unusually tight-lipped, Fragoso recalls. "As popular as she was, nobody wanted to say anything," the detective says. "That got me going: Why weren't they saying anything? Were there greater powers? Was it an organized crime deal? Was it a hit? Did she upset someone in an organization?"
Eighteen months after MacDonald's body was found, police put out a Silent Witness television broadcast, a last-resort option when leads run dry. The MacDonald who appears in a home video in the segment is a far cry from the scared-of-her-shadow woman Townsend remembers. She's 16, her face still spotted with freckles. She's performing American Sign Language, which she learned in high school, to contemporary Christian music, smiling and gazing upward as she gestures dramatically. Patton pleaded with viewers to help police, saying punishment wasn't the point.
"I don't know how they live every day without saying something to somebody and wanting help," she says. "I wouldn't even care if they spend a whole lot of time in jail, because I believe they have to be paying for it every day."
She couldn't have known how right she was.
Born and raised in the Valley, Gordon Lee Lederer has been a screw-up for most of his life.
He started smoking pot at 13. He was boozing a year later. At 15, he was admitted to St. Luke's Hospital, where he spent three months in treatment for alcoholism, drug dependency and depression, according to court records. The cure didn't take. He tried living with his dad, a Salt River Project engineer. Then he moved in with his mother, a dental hygienist, and his stepfather, a physician. That didn't work, either. He dropped out of high school in the tenth grade and moved in with a friend who worked as a painter, helping remodel restaurants for living expenses.
"He was wallpapering and doing all these things as a kid, but he fell through on that, too," says Lana Grass, his mother. "He got tired of doing that and had to move on to something else."
"Something else" was the Air Force. Instead of seeing the world, he was stationed at Williams Air Force Base within miles of where he grew up, assigned to maintain aircraft ejection seats. Bored, he occupied his time with liquor and fast motorcycles. After a stint in rehab that ended two years after his enlistment, he was discharged. He was out less than a year before his mother drove him to a VA hospital for inpatient treatment. "I had to literally carry him into the car, one of my girlfriends and I," she recalls. "He was on acid -- just out of it."
Lederer started using cocaine and heroin as soon as he got out of treatment, beginning each day with a bottle of whiskey and draining it dry by the time he went to bed. He was working as a DJ in a strip club, but his salary wasn't nearly enough to pay for his drugs.
Using a note passed to a teller, he robbed a bank and got away with $2,100. The money was gone a week later, so he got a gun, tied a handkerchief around his face and held up a record store, smoothly telling the cashier, "Okay, it's time to give to your local neighborhood charity." It was hardly the work of a professional: A customer tackled him when he put the gun down on the counter to pick up the $628.
That was in 1984. He spent two years in state prison and went back to his old ways, working in topless joints, hanging out with strippers and getting bombed. In 1987, he married a stripper named Marilyn Mance, who has had her own problems with drugs. It was a traditional Catholic church wedding with all the trimmings. Together, the pair embarked on a rocky journey that included God, frequent separations and lots of partying. He never found what he was looking for.
"I've always had a hole in my soul about that big in the center of my soul," says Lederer, holding his hands apart as far as jailhouse cuffs will allow. "I was always searching for something -- adrenaline, anything -- to fill that hole. I tried to fill it with everything I could think of." A probation officer who evaluated Lederer in 1984 concluded he'd come from a "significantly dysfunctional" family, which had contributed to his problems with drugs and the law.
After Mance landed a clerical job with a Mormon-owned telephone company, she and Lederer joined the church together and were baptized. He says he was attracted by the emphasis on family stability, something he never had as a child. He and his wife went all in, according to his mother. "They had to recruit everybody -- they wanted everybody to be Mormon," Grass says. "Knowing my son, he's very addictive, and he's been addictive since he was a child. And he gets addicted to religion."
This particular addiction to religion lasted about a year. "She started to drink again, and I definitely didn't stop her," Lederer says. "We just kind of moved on."
During a separation from his wife in the early 1990s, Lederer landed in Missouri, where a drinking buddy who worked for George Cardin Circus International got him a job as an electrician. After a few weeks of working behind the scenes, a manager asked him if he wanted to be a performer. He jumped at the chance and says he ended up a human cannonball.
His wife eventually joined him on the circus trail, selling concessions. They traveled the United States and Canada before returning to Phoenix. "The next thing I knew, they were coming home because Mary had broken her ankle from hopping a fence or something," Grass says. "I don't know if they were running from something. You just never knew."
Although he was married, Lederer lived with his mother off and on throughout the 1990s. "Oh, some of the stuff was unbelievable," Grass recalls. "There were times he was on my roof hallucinating, and I had to call Mary to come and get him -- I'd say, 'Come get your husband off the roof.' He'd be up there and he'd be yelling at me that there were people in my bushes and they were naked and having intercourse."
By the mid-1990s, Lederer had had enough. The first inkling of sanity came, he says, when he woke up in an emergency room from a heroin overdose in 1995. He had OD'd before, he says, but this time was different. He heard a nurse speaking to him as he emerged from unconsciousness. "I don't remember seeing her," he says. "I remember hearing her voice: 'You're back here again. You're still alive. You ought to figure out why.'" It wasn't an overtly religious message, but it sunk in.
The first step was getting sober. He went through rehab once more, then started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. And with a vengeance.
He attended five meetings a week, says Rodney Ousley, who met Lederer through AA and became his roommate. Trained as a printer in prison, he found steady 9-to-5 work and visited county lockups to counsel inmates in his spare time. "He helped a lot of people not become what he was," says Ousley, who has a felony drug record himself. "When I was his roommate, he helped me from going out many times."
Lederer's mother was proud. Her son's transformation was obvious during an AA meeting he held at her house. "These guys were fresh out of prison -- they were a rough crowd, with tattoos all over their bodies," Grass recalls. "They were crying and so into doing their program. It was so great. Over the years, every three months, I could see this complete change in him. When he got into AA, he stopped changing. He got addicted to that, which is good, because he put himself into service work."
Lederer divorced in 1997 and made amends with his father, with whom he had long had a strained relationship. Two years later, he landed a job as a pressman at Biltmore Graphics at the intersection of Third Street and McDowell Road. It wasn't a typical job interview.
"He told me when I talked about hiring him that he was an alcoholic, but he hadn't had a drink in five years," says David Grece, the print-shop owner. "He said, 'I'm willing to work some extra hours, but I want you to know that my time is really devoted to helping other people.' And he went to the jail, I know, at least once a week to counsel inmates."
Within a year, Grece made Lederer a manager, making him responsible for ensuring jobs got done right and on time. "He knew how to do everything, and he did everything in just a fantastic way," Grece says. "He basically had what I refer to as an owner's mentality."
Lederer's biggest flaw as a supervisor, Grece says, was that he was too nice. Instead of cracking down on employees who weren't up to snuff, he'd do the work himself. "If Gordon has a fault, it's that he tends to have too much empathy," Grece says. "I explained to him, 'I put you in this position; I want everyone to do things as well and in the manner that you do it.'
"I just consider him to be a fine individual. I would be proud to have him as a brother or a son or anything."
Maria Regalado was too busy in the kitchen to notice, but a man doesn't eat lunch at Taco Bell every day just because he likes seven-layer burritos. Gordon Lederer was watching her, looking past the cashier to the prep line.
"'He likes you,' my friends say," she recalls six years later. "I said, 'Do you think?' I asked, 'What did I do?' He just kept coming and coming."
Romance was the last thing on her mind. Estranged from her husband, she was a single mom from Mexico with a five-year-old daughter to raise on fast-food wages. She spoke no English -- just getting orders right was a challenge. That didn't dissuade Lederer. "I was really intrigued by her, for some strange reason," he says.
And he'd always had a way with women.
Before he sobered up, strippers and assorted other girlfriends would sneak through windows of his mother's house at night to be with him. After getting clean, he got more than moral support at Alcoholics Anonymous. "Back then, he was kind of a slut," Ousley says. "He met all kinds of girls in the program and went out with them. He was dating three women when he met Maria. It's definitely not his looks. It's his personality, I guess -- his charm."
It's tough to charm a woman who can't understand what you're saying, so Lederer bought some teach-yourself-Spanish tapes and practiced phrases on his way to work each morning. Eventually, he slipped her a business card. On the back he'd written, "You are so beautiful. Call me." She did, but got nowhere. The only English word she knew was "Hello." After that, silence. Convinced it was a crank caller, Lederer hung up.
But it wasn't long before love bloomed.
Maria cut her hand with a slipped knife one afternoon and needed stitches, but the restaurant was busy. Biltmore Graphics was right across the street. So she called on Lederer. "I dropped what I was doing," he says.
The emergency room isn't the best spot for a first date. Lederer was the only Anglo there, surrounded by Hispanics and not understanding a word that anyone said. But Lederer made the most of it. Using hand gestures and what Spanish he'd learned, he asked her to dinner.
Plenty of women would be impressed with dinner at The Fish Market on Camelback Road. Oysters on the half-shell, swordfish grilled over mesquite, cloth napkins, a wine list. Lederer did the ordering -- he was trying to look like he was in control, like he belonged there. She hated it.
Her idea of a good time is a weekend camping trip. She grew up in a small Mexican village, where seafood cocktails overflowed with shrimp, octopus and shellfish. "So when they gave me four shrimp with that weird sauce, I was just, 'What is this?'" she says. They'd both brought dictionaries so they could speak to each other. Despite the language barrier, she made herself clear.
"I told him, 'I don't feel comfortable here. I really don't like this. It's so fake. Look at the people around you. When you try to appear something you're not, people know. If you want to impress me, treat me right and just be yourself.'"
It was Lederer's turn to be impressed. "She did it in a manner that I kind of appreciated," he says. "It endeared her to me. She doesn't pull any punches -- she says what's on her mind."
Much to Lederer's own amazement, his feelings grew when he found out she had a daughter. The romance was in its early stages when he met Maria at a Denny's and she was waiting with Angie, her little girl, who is now 10. It was a complete surprise. "I never intended to be in a situation like that," he says. "But I fell in love with her, too, right there."
He proved a fine stepfather. "He teach me how to discipline my daughter," Maria says. "When she do something wrong, I just start yelling, 'No, don't do that!' He doesn't. He says, 'Go to your room. When you're ready to talk, we can talk.'" An accountant before she came to the United States, she taught financial discipline to Lederer, who'd always been a carefree spender.
It seemed a perfect match.
After divorcing her estranged husband, she married Lederer five years ago and took his name. The couple managed an apartment complex in exchange for free rent, saving money for a down payment on a house they bought three years ago, complete with driveway basketball hoop and backyard swimming pool. He is, she says, everything she's always wanted in a husband. Hardworking. Honest. Reliable.
"What can I say?" she offers. "I just love the man."
Lederer weeps when asked what's been the hardest part of coming clean. "The effect it's had on my family," he answers. "It's the one thing I can't rectify."
Shortly after getting married, Gordon Lederer began attending Paradise Springs Community Church in North Phoenix.
It's a storefront church on Greenway Road that shares a strip mall with a bingo parlor and coin laundry, the kind of place where worshippers bring their own Bibles and show up on Sundays in jeans and polo shirts. With a cement floor, fluorescent lighting and plain white walls decorated with flags from 16 nations, it's a humble sanctuary for a congregation that includes Hispanics, blacks and Asians. During sermons, many parishioners take notes.
"We are a paradise in the desert," reads the church's statement of purpose. "Those who have been mistreated by other churches or by life in general can come to us and be renewed by God. Paradise Springs stresses the release of personal baggage brought on by sin in exchange for a new life in Christ. Counseling may be necessary to accomplish this."
Gordon Lederer told Rodney Ousley, his ex-roommate, that he was looking for a place where he and his family could do things together. Several people he'd known from AA went to Paradise Springs. Ousley says he went twice and wasn't impressed. "It didn't feel right," he recalls. "It sounded like a brainwashing."
As Lederer got more involved with the church, he spent less and less time at AA. "It got to the point where he wouldn't come at all," Ousley says. "I would call and leave messages and he'd never call back."
Kim West, a former parishioner who has befriended the Lederers, says pastor Ken Hodgeson discouraged church members from attending AA meetings. "Ken would say, 'We have what you need here, why would you go there?'" West says. Lederer says other church members who'd dropped out of AA encouraged him to do the same. "I was told I didn't need it anymore," he says. "I was just doing what other people were doing."
Some parishioners became so dependent on Hodgeson that they wouldn't change jobs or buy a home without his approval, West says. "It's amazing," she says. "These people can no longer think for themselves. To oppose Ken is to oppose God, pretty much."
In her own case, West says Hodgeson's counseling nearly wrecked her marriage. She was working as a counselor herself, with the church providing free office space, when Hodgeson told her she needed his help. She says she'd grown up in an abusive home and had already gone through counseling, but that wasn't good enough for the pastor. "I wasn't seeking counseling," she says. "I was doing pretty well with my life. I was pretty happy. Then he said, 'You need to be in counseling.' I said, 'No, I don't, I'm doing fine.' He said, 'Well, if you're going to work here, you're going to be in counseling with me.'"
Convinced that Hodgeson was trying to control her and drive her away from her husband, who had told her he didn't see any problems that required the pastor's intervention, West and her husband left the church in September of last year. From the pulpit, Hodgeson instructed his flock to shun the couple. "When the Wests left, the pastor say, 'Don't have any contact with them,'" says Maria Lederer.
Lana Grass, Lederer's mother, says she went to Paradise Springs once and came away worried. Grass says she was concerned about the influence Hodgeson seemed to have over his flock, and particularly her son. Rather than delegating authority, Hodgeson seemed to be the head of virtually every prayer and support group within the church, she says. "He had to take control of everything -- it seemed like he was in so much control of everybody," she says. "I suspected a cult at first. I think Gordon got addicted to the man to the point where he probably would have done anything for him, which really isn't good. It was scary."
Lederer says there may be some truth to that. "My trouble was, I got confused," he says. "I based my okayness with God on what Ken was telling me. He managed to talk me into doing this. The longer I am away from that church the stranger it all looks."
On advice from his attorney, Lederer won't discuss his confession or Monique MacDonald's homicide -- the judge hasn't yet accepted a plea bargain he struck with prosecutors, so there could still be a trial. But his friends and family believe Lederer might still be a free man if he hadn't trusted Hodgeson.
"I really feel that he got some tremendously bad advice from a minister," says David Grece, his former employer.
Shortly after joining the church, Lederer hinted at his awful secret during a camping trip with church members, says West, who was present around the campfire that night. "He said that he had some things in his past that he felt terrible about," West recalls. He offered no details. But last spring, it became clear that something was terribly wrong.
He came home drunk one day. It was the first time his wife had seen him fall off the wagon. Gordon ended up going to Hodgeson for counseling. About an hour later, Maria got a call from the pastor: Come to the office right away. When she arrived, she found out that her husband had confessed to murder and that he was going to turn himself in to police. She asked Hodgeson if this was the right thing to do -- did her husband really need to go to prison to save his soul? Then she went home and waited while Hodgeson and Lederer drove to the nearest Phoenix police station. Without consulting a lawyer, he was throwing himself on the mercy of the system for a crime that could bring him the death penalty.
Lederer told police that he couldn't remember MacDonald's name, but he killed her because she was helping him sell drugs and had taken drug money that belonged to him. He couldn't remember how much. He shot her in the head with a .22-caliber rifle. Then he put the body in the back of his pickup, drove to the desert near Carefree and dumped her.
Police allowed his wife and stepdaughter a visit with Lederer before he was booked into jail, where thick glass separates inmates from visitors. Maria Lederer felt like she'd been punched hard in the stomach. "You know sometimes when you just feel like you can't breathe?" she says. "He was crying like a baby. He kept saying, 'I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.' I hugged him. Kissed him. I just started praying, 'God, guide me.'"
During Sunday services two days later, Hodgeson told the congregation about the confession and instructed parishioners to keep their mouths shut. "He said, 'Don't talk to anybody -- I'm the only one,'" Maria Lederer recalls. The pastor also vowed that the church would not abandon Lederer and his family. "He said, 'We've got to take care of Maria and Angie and we're going to help them through this situation,'" Maria Lederer says. He also gave her some legal advice, telling her that she should divorce her husband so that MacDonald's family couldn't take the family's home via a civil lawsuit. Maria Lederer obeyed, but she still wears her wedding ring, still visits Lederer every chance she gets and still shows up for every court appearance.
"It's only paper," she says of the divorce. She vows to stand by her man, no matter how long it takes. "I think, sometimes, his faith is weaker than mine," she says. "We're in this together because God wants us to be in this situation. It's like a tunnel. And at the end of the tunnel is a light. I want to see the light, baby. And I want to see it together."
With Lederer behind bars, an anonymous donor in the church made his family's house payments for six months. Church members visited him regularly and looked after Angie while Maria Lederer was at work. Hodgeson kept his distance.
"When he got him to do this, he promised me that he would be with us and that he would be with him," Maria Lederer says. "The only time he went and see him was one time. I went, crying, and told him that my husband needed him and I wanted him to go and see him and talk to him. We went together. That's the only time he went and see him."
Maria Lederer left Paradise Springs in February, and church members no longer help with child care. She's risen to assistant manager at Taco Bell, but money is tight. She's worried about the summer, when she'll be working 50 hours a week and her daughter will be out of school. "I'm in a big crisis," she says.
Hodgeson, who is recovering from neck surgery, declined to talk in detail. "There's still things that I'm still involved with, with the police and FBI," Hodgeson says. "There's a lot of stuff -- I'm not really at liberty to talk. At the time things need to come out, it's going to come out. And now isn't the time."
Is it possible that Lederer may be implicated in crimes beyond the MacDonald homicide? "That's a possibility," Hodgeson answers. "I don't know."
That's ridiculous, Lederer says. "Bring it on. I don't have nothing to hide."
After no visits and no letters from Hodgeson, Lederer has severed his ties with Paradise Springs. The same day he pleaded guilty to murder, he received a letter from a parishioner who described Hodgeson as a "humble, dedicated and loving pastor" and berated Lederer for turning against him. He wrote that he'd reviewed more than five years of notes he'd taken during sermons and Bible study meetings. "I found one consistent message -- trust God and follow Christ," the parishioner wrote. "I encourage you to continue pursuing Christ (alone) at all costs. I also encourage you to continue to work out your faith on your own."
Not a single church member was present earlier this month when Lederer pleaded guilty to murder.
One look at photographs of Monique MacDonald's body was enough for Victoria Washington, a former police officer who's now an attorney assigned to the capital crimes unit of the Maricopa County Public Defender's Office. This was a case she couldn't take to a jury.
"I do homicides," Lederer's lawyer says. "I've been a cop for six years. But the pictures of the crime scene -- where the body was found -- that was bad. And I've seen a lot."
In death, MacDonald was nude. Animals had gnawed through the duct tape and taken away her left ear and eyelid, eating the flesh from much of her face clear down to the bone. Her left eyeball was dehydrated and collapsed. Flies had laid yellowish eggs in her nose and at the entrances to her vagina and anus. A pair of .22-caliber bullets were embedded in her brain, one fired into her face next to her nose, the other shot into her lower lip. Duct tape was wrapped around her mouth, head and neck, her ankles and wrists bound by rope. The killer had looped tape around her neck, creating a makeshift handle to carry the 98-pound body like so much garbage.
"I would want to know where he got that idea from," says Detective Fragoso, who hasn't interviewed Lederer since his confession. A year or two before MacDonald's murder, other women were found shot to death with their heads wrapped in tape, but those killings were solved long ago, the detective says. "I don't know if it was a copycat thing or what," he says. "I don't know if it's because they're afraid to look at their faces after they're dead. Maybe it's the best way for them to handle it -- cover up their faces; then they're an object."
A family vacationing from California found MacDonald during a hike the day before Christmas. What the family saw would stay with them the rest of their lives, the mother wrote in a sympathy letter to Patton.
"My youngest son [then 7] began to cry and said, 'Somebody has to go tell her mommy she is dead, and it's Christmas Eve,'" the mother wrote. "I am still angry with the person who did this to my family and, worst of all, to your family. We have talked with our kids a lot about this when they want to talk, but how do you explain things that even as an adult you don't understand?"
This killing was over the top, and all the "I'm sorry"s in the world couldn't change that. Mercy from a judge and the prosecutor's office was Lederer's only hope. At first, MacDonald's mother wasn't sure what constituted justice. In September, she told New Times a sentence as short as 12 years might be sufficient. After all, her daughter's killer would never have been caught if he hadn't turned himself in. But, as she learned details of her daughter's death -- the tape, the icy, calculated gunshots -- she decided that Lederer deserves nothing less than 25 years.
"Something is wacky in his brain -- I don't care how normal, quote-unquote, he looks or acts now," Patton says. "How would he think that killing her would get him his money back? To me, he's not capable of acting normal. If it happened once, to me, it will happen again. He went there premeditatedly to kill her. Dead is dead."
Against Patton's wishes, prosecutors agreed to reduce the first-degree murder charge to second-degree with a sentence of between 17 and 19 years. Lederer took the plea on March 11, but Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Cates said he'll wait until May 20, the scheduled sentencing day, to decide whether to approve the deal. If he doesn't, either side can back out.
And so Gordon Lederer is in limbo.
"I'll tell you what justice is: You can remand him to my custody," says David Grece, his former employer. "I'll hire him. I'll pay him a top wage. And I'll make sure that -- I won't have to make sure of anything.
"Gordon is a changed person. Let's move on. What benefit are we going to get from putting him behind bars when you consider the fact that this is going to ruin his wife's life, this is going to ruin his daughter's life?"
Maria Lederer knows the man she loves is going to prison for a long time. Sometimes, she says she wishes he hadn't turned himself in. Other times, she says it was the right thing to do. To ask him to keep his secret would have been selfish. After all, she asks, what's a prison term compared to eternity?
"What he did, he did to save his soul," she says. "He is forgiven."
Lederer says he knows that. He also knows God's opinion doesn't mean much in a court of law.
"Just because you're forgiven doesn't mean there aren't consequences. What I did was the right thing to do. My perspective is, it's all in God's hands."
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