Man in Ore. Cult Case Appears in Court

Associated Press/December 21, 2002

Portland, Ore. -- A cult leader of the defunct Rajneesh Ranch in central Oregon pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to murder a U.S. Attorney and was sentenced to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Phyllis McCarthy, 55, voluntarily flew from South Africa to plead guilty.

In an emotional court statement Friday, the former president of the Rajneeshee commune described the cult's grip as "psychological torture.'' But McCarthy said she took personal responsibility for going along with the abortive 1985 plot to murder Charles Turner, who was then Oregon's U.S. attorney, after he began investigating the cult.

McCarthy alluded to her failure to speak out at meetings when the idea of killing Turner was broached.

"I cannot forgive myself for not being tougher at the time,'' she said.

Turner was not satisfied.

"One year for a conspiracy to murder a presidential appointee?'' said Turner, who retired in 1993. "That's just laughable.''

McCarthy's conviction may mark the end to the criminal cases stemming from the Rajneeshees' occupancy of a 64,000-acre ranch from 1981 to 1985.

Thousands were drawn to the compound by the group's charismatic leader, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, known to the outside world for his obsession with flashy Rolls-Royce automobiles.

Most cult leaders fled the country as FBI agents descended on the ranch to investigate sham marriages, wiretapping and an intentional salmonella poisoning that sickened hundreds of people in The Dalles.

As part of the investigation, prosecutors uncovered the plot to murder Turner.

Seven people were indicted in the murder conspiracy. All but Catherine Jane Stubbs have been convicted. Stubbs remains at large in Germany, but a court there ruled in 1991 that she could not be extradited.

Rajneesh was deported in 1986. He died in India in 1990.

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