Review board grants two requests from man responsible for 1996 Scientology shooting

The Oregonian/October 29, 2009

The man responsible for shooting four people at Portland's downtown Scientology Celebrity Centre in 1996 took a step toward greater independence this week.

The Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board on Wednesday granted Jairus Chegero Godeka's request to get to and from his job without a staff chaperone.

Mary Claire Buckley, executive director of the board, said a three-member panel also granted his request that he advance from a level four patient to a level five, which means Godeka, 51, is eligible to take 30- to 60-minute outings without supervision. The highest level a psychiatric patient can reach is six.

Buckley said one of Godeka's victims - Helen Healy, who was Helen Burke at the time of the shooting - spoke at the hearing in Salem. Church member Gwen Barnard spoke as well.

"They were quite gracious and acknowledged that Mr. Godeka has done well and (were) pleased he had received this treatment," Buckley said. She said Healy told the panel that she did not fear for her own life, but "public safety in general. She never wanted it to happen to anybody else," Buckley said.

Healy, who still lives in the Portland area, could not be reached for comment Thursday, and a church official had not returned a phone call by Thursday evening.

In June 2005, Godeka was moved from the state hospital to a secure residential treatment facility in Lane County.

"The man has been a model resident there," Buckley said. "He has never been late or missed an appointment or treatment group. He has been completely compliant.

"We have not had any occasion to revoke his conditional release," she said.

Godeka works at a cafeteria job in Lane County and until this week has been required to have a staff member drive him to and from work each day. Now he will be able to get to and from work using public transportation.

The Scientology shooting was one of the more spectacular crimes in Portland's history.

During a busy downtown lunch hour Sept. 25, 1996, Godeka went into the center at 709 S.W. Salmon St. with a red can of gasoline. He shot Helen Burke, who was pregnant, with a .45-caliber Ruger semiautomatic handgun as she sat at the lobby desk.

The gunshot paralyzed her from the waist down. He then quickly shot and wounded two men who came to the woman's aid. A third man discovered he had been shot about an hour after the incident. Godeka held a fifth person hostage for a few minutes before police talked him into surrendering.

Godeka's exact motives were unclear but he claimed that Scientology drove him crazy, ruined his business and owed him $50,000.

In March 1998, Godeka was found "guilty except for insanity" and placed in custody of the Psychiatric Security Review Board for up to 120 years.

That sentence included consecutive 20-year terms for each of the four people Godeka shot at the center, 20 more for kidnapping a Scientology employee, and 20 for arson because he spread gasoline around the building lobby and set it on fire.

The judge ruled that all four shootings constituted attempted murder even though Godeka asked Kerry Chipman, his attorney, to argue that he didn't mean to kill anybody. When it was over, the judge asked Godeka whether he had anything to say.

Godeka asked the judge to let him go.

Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, Godeka is the second-oldest of nine children Once a successful small-business operator, he came to the United States in about 1979 and was a student at Clark College in Vancouver, Wash.

Godeka had a history of mental illness going back more than 20 years. He was involved only briefly with the church, had made threats against it in San Francisco, and in 1994 threatened to kill church employees in Portland if they did not pay him $50,000.

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