Last of Marinwood cult sentenced

Tot starved to death; other kids were abused

San Francisco Chronicle/April 19, 2003
By Peter Fimrite

The last member of a Marin County family "cult" whose 13 abused and malnourished children lived under the iron fist of a man portrayed as a violent megalomaniac was sentenced Friday to state prison, ending a bizarre and tragic saga.

Deirdre Hart Wilson, 39, who tearfully described herself as a "psychological amputee," was sentenced to seven years and four months in prison after a lively hearing in which she was depicted as the victim of an evil madman.

She was the third member of a pseudo-religious vegetarian sect to be sentenced in Marin County Superior Court in connection with the starvation death of 19-month-old Ndigo Campisi-Nyah-Wright on Nov. 13, 2001.

Ndigo was not her child, but Wilson bore six other children to patriarch Winifred Wright. Inside their darkened Marinwood home, five of them were severely malnourished and subjected to a catalog of beatings, forced fasts and psychological abuse outlined in a "book of rules," according to court records.

Wright, 46, was sentenced to 16 years and eight months in prison last month after a videotape of his deformed, malnourished children was shown in court.

Ndigo's mother, Mary Campbell, 38, was sentenced two weeks ago to 10 years in state prison. Another co-defendant, Carol Bremner, died of leukemia last year. Charges against a fifth suspect, Kali Polk-Matthews, 21, were dropped.

In all, Wright fathered 19 children with five women since 1990.

Wilson stood up Friday to tell Judge Terrence Boren that she loved her children and never would have subjected them to such conditions had her mind not been controlled by Wright, who she said robbed her of her free will.

"I've been living as a psychological amputee," Wilson said, weeping. "I was terrorized into hating my parents, trusting no one . . . and not respecting the rules of society."

Prosecutor Barry Borden scoffed at that notion, pointing out that Wilson wrote at least one entry in the book of rules and actively participated in the "house of horrors," allowing her 12-year-old boy to inflict corporal punishment on the younger children.

Borden said the college-educated Wilson did nothing to help her 2-year-old boy who could not walk or talk, cried incessantly from pain and could only get around by pushing his head around on the floor like a wheelbarrow.

"Like Flip Wilson's sketch about Geraldine, she says, 'The devil made me do it,' " Borden said. "Mr. Wright was a bad man, but he was not the devil and he didn't have supernatural powers. Deirdre Wilson was no more brainwashed than Patty Hearst, John Walker Lindh and the Charles Manson women."

Wilson's lawyer, Douglas Horngrad, argued that Borden was not only wrong about Wilson, but wrong about Wright, whom he described as "malevolent, wicked, cruel and delusional."

"If Winifred Wright isn't the devil, then I'd like to know who is," Horngrad said. "Evil pulsated from his veins. Winifred Wright was a madman. . . . Everybody in this house was controlled, dominated, subjugated and tortured by Winifred Wright."

In an earlier court hearing, the public defender for one of the women described a painting in the home that showed a man holding a rifle over his head, standing on three naked women -- an apparent allusion to Wright and his wives. In court Friday, Borden noted that other paintings in the house portrayed Wright in "Christlike" images.

Judge Boren called the case "terribly, terribly troubling," but chose not to sentence Wilson to the maximum sentence of 11 years and 6 months agreed upon when she pleaded guilty last December to five counts of child endangerment.

He said he could not absolve Wilson of responsibility, but believed she was remorseful and that Wright was "the dominant malevolent force in this household."

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