Hare Krishna member says he acted at leader's behest

Associated Press/April 18, 1996

Martinsburg -- A member of a Hare Krishna fringe group testified Wednesday that he tracked down a dissident in Michigan and attached a bumper sticker onto the man's van to let him know he was being watched weeks before the man's execution-style slaying.

Thomas Drescher (Tirtha) said he placed the sticker, which said "Are we having fun yet?" on the van of Stephen Bryant (Sulocana) before tracking him down in 1986 in Los Angeles, where he shot Bryant twice in the head.

Drescher testified he carried out the assassination at the wish of his spiritual leader, Swami Bhaktipada.(Keith Ham)

"You have to understand that in my mind, it wasn't murder. It was dispatching an undesirable element from the community," Drescher said.

Drescher is the prosecution's star witness against Bhaktipada, who is on trial on six counts of mail fraud, three counts of racketeering, and one count each of conspiracy and interstate travel to commit murder for hire.

In its indictment, the government said Bhaktipada used two murders, a kidnapping threats and beatings to maintain control of the illegal business scams that raised more than $ 10 million between 1981 and 1985 at the New Vrindaban community near Moundsville in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle.

Also Wednesday, Terry Sheldon (Tapahpunja), leader of a Krishna temple in Cleveland, testified that Bryant had been spreading rumors that Bhaktipada was a homosexual and a child abuser.

Bryant threatened the life of Bhaktipada and others, Sheldon said.

Another dissident, Charles St. Denis (Chakradara), was shot and stabbed in 1983, he said.

Drescher was convicted in both slayings and is serving a life sentence for murder.

Drescher testified that Bhaktipada was disgusted with St. Denis because he was a womanizer and drug pusher. St. Denis also was seeking the return of some of the $ 80,000 he had given Bhaktipada, he said.

But it was not until St. Denis was accused of raping a woman that Drescher heard the first talk of killing anyone, he testified. Drescher said he went directly to Bhaktipada and broached the subject.

"He became pensive and turned and said 'You can only offend the spiritual master so many times,'" Drescher said.

Drescher said he and another man (Daruka - Dan Reid) killed St. Denis, then buried the body beneath a stream bed near New Vrindaban. Drescher later poured acid on the grave site.

Drescher said he killed Bryant three years later for spreading the same rumors about Bhaktipada. He said he had asked Bhaktipada if he wanted Bryant killed.

Bhaktipada replied, "Under the circumstances, it would be best," he testified.

Drescher said he tracked Bryant's movement to Los Angeles, where he found Bryant in his parked van near the home of a friend.

"I checked my weapon, walked up to the van, and killed him," he said.

Sheldon testified Bhaktipada's security was a concern after the leader was beaten with an iron bar in October 1985 (by Triyogi - Michael Schockman).

The attacker was suspected to be under the influence of Bryant, Sheldon said.

Sheldon said he participated in the surveillance of Bryant with Drescher and told Bhaktipada of the plot to kill Bryant.

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