Cult leader convicted, could be sentenced to deathPARA:

PAINESVILLE, Ohio -- Religious cult leader Jeffrey Don Lundgren was convicted Wednesday of killing a five-member family as part of what investigators said was a human sacrifice.

The jury in Lake County Common Pleas Court deliberated for 2 hours to convict the 40-year-old former lay minister in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints of five counts each of aggravated murder and kidnapping.


Judge Martin Parks tentatively scheduled a sentencing hearing to begin Sept. 10, when the jury will hear arguments and eventually make a non-binding recommendation for Lundgren's sentence. He could face the death penalty.

Earlier Wednesday, Lundgren's wife, Alice, was sentenced to 150 years to life in prison for her role in the shootings of Dennis and Cheryl Avery, members of Lundgren's cult, and the couple's three young daughters, whose badly decomposed bodies were found in a barn in Kirtland near Cleveland in January.


Investigators said Lungren decided the Averys should be killed in order to bring God's blessing on the cult's coming travels.

In his summation at Jeffrey Lundgren's trial, County Prosecutor Steven LaTourette accused the defense of trying to 'whitewash' the horror. 'I'm not going to apologize that these pictures are gory,' he said.

'I'm not going to apologize thais about,' the prosecutor said.

Showing jurors the pictures, LaTourette added, 'It is unfortunate that Jeffrey Don Lundgren took this family and turned them into this rotting pile of flesh. Payday for Jeffrey Lundgren is today.'

In his closing argument, defense lawyer Charles Grieshammer did not contest the charges against his client and protested that he was put on trial. 'The truth is, this testimony wasn't needed,' he said. 'Jeffrey Lundgren killed these people. There was no need to go into this sideshow.'

LaTourette said he will seek the death penalty against Lundgren and oppose a defense motion to delay the sentencing phase of the trial for 60 days, saying testimony will not be fresh in the jurors' minds. The judge has yet to rule on the request for a delay.

Lundgren led a group of the Reorganized Church from his native Independence, Mo., to the church's historic temple in Kirtland in the mid-1980s, conducting his own scripture classes, and the congregation broke away from the church in 1987.


Testimony showed that Lundgren at times justified the need to kill the Averys with readings from the scripture, but at other times showed a dislike for Dennis Avery, even encouraging him not to move to Kirtland from Missouri.

On April 18, 1989, the day after the slayings, federal and local authorities came to the cult's farm to question them about a rumored plot to take over the Reorganized Church's temple, not realizing that the Averys had been murdered.

After questioning, cult members immediately moved to near Davis, W.Va., then to Chilhowee, Mo., in October before breaking up in December.

On Dec. 31, former cult member Keith Johnson, his wife gone with Lundgren in Southern California, told authorities in Missouri about the slayings. The bodies were recovered in the barn east of Cleveland Jan. 3-4 and, on Jan. 5, 13 cult members were indicted. Arrests were subsequently made near Independence, San Diego and Bay City, Mich.

Murder charges have since been dropped against three cult members, five pleaded guilty and agreed to testify, three others await capital murder trials. Alice Lundgren was convicted Aug. 1 on five counts each of conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, complicity in aggravated murder and kidnapping.


At her sentencing, the cult leader's wife was critical of the light sentences former cult members received in exchange for their testimony, and was especially critical of the fact no charges were brought against Johnson, who she said helped dig the grave. She said he revealed the killings because his wife went to California with the Lundgrens, not because of the Avery deaths.

Common Pleas Judge Paul Mitrovich sentenced Alice Lundgren to 20 years to life on each of the complicity counts and 10 to 25 years on each of the kidnapping counts. He ordered all to be served consecutively, but state law says she is eligible for parole after 15 years.

Under Ohio law, Alice Lundgren could not be sentenced to conspiracy to commit aggravated murder if she also had been sentenced to complicity in the same crimes.

She wept at her sentencing, blaming her husband for the killings.

The Lundgrens' son, Damon, is to go on trial Sept. 4 on aggravated murder charges and could face the death penalty if convicted.

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