Judge OKs cult deprogramming

Marin News/March 1, 2003
By Gary Klien

A judge granted bail yesterday to Deirdre Hart Wilson - one of three people convicted in the malnutrition death of a toddler they raised with 12 other children in Lucas Valley - so she can enter a treatment clinic for former cult members.

Judge Terrence Boren set Wilson's bail at $600,000, despite the objections of the District Attorney's Office, which wanted Wilson held without bail pending her sentencing on April 14. Deputy District Attorney Barry Borden said Wilson has improperly been sending letters to her children and remains a danger to them.

But Wilson's defense attorney, Douglas Horngrad of Mill Valley, said his client deserves to have "deprogramming" for years of abuse before she is sentenced. Wilson shared the Lucas Valley home with Winifred Wright, who sired all 13 children, and three of Wright's other girlfriends.

"We want the court to be able to see the real Deirdre Wilson in recovery," Horngrad said.

Wilson - who pleaded guilty to five counts of child endangerment after a second-degree murder charge was dropped - could face up to 11 years and four months in prison. She remained in custody last night while her supporters work out the logistics of her transfer to the specialized treatment clinic, the Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center in Albany, Ohio.

According to court documents, Wilson agreed to the restriction that one of her parents accompany her directly from the jail to Wellspring, and directly back. The clinic is an inpatient program of two to four weeks.

Wilson's family will pay for her treatment and transportation, Horngrad said. Wilson, 38, is the granddaughter of Xerox Corp.'s founder, Joseph C. Wilson.

Yesterday's developments came several weeks after another defendant, Mary Campbell, the mother of the dead boy, asked that she be allowed to go to the same clinic as part of her pending criminal sentence. Campbell, 38, is scheduled to be sentenced on April 4 and remains in custody.

Wright and his other two girlfriends were also indicted in the case. Wright, 46, took a plea deal similar to Wilson and Campbell and is scheduled to be sentenced later this month. He is being held without bail.

Carole Bremner, who was suffering from leukemia, died in custody last August. She was 44.

Charges were dropped against the fourth girlfriend.

The toddler, Ndigo Campisi-Nyah-Wright, died on Nov. 13, 2001. That prompted a police investigation that led to the grand jury indictments on Feb. 8, 2002.

An expert concluded that Ndigo, who was 19 months old, died of "respiratory and cardiac arrest ... as a result of rickets, which is brought on by neglect and malnourishment," authorities said.

Court documents showed that Ndigo's siblings were made to live by a "Book of Rules" that called for belt lashings, tied restraint and the force-feeding of jalapeño peppers and other punishments for such acts as sneaking food or answering the front door of their home.

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