'Shootout in Miracle Valley II' book signing held

San Pedro Valley News-Sun, Arizona/July 27, 2010

The second book telling the story of what happened after the 1982 shootout between Cochise County Sheriff's deputies and a religious cult in Miracle Valley was well received by residents in St. David Friday night.

Longtime resident James Crawford said he found "Shootout at Miracle Valley: the Search for Justice" informative.

"I have already read the whole thing," he said. "I never knew about a lot of this, and I grew up here. I didn't even know all this was going on. How can people be so hypnotized into believing they are above the law?"

Crawford was referring to the aftermath of the shooting that made national headlines Oct. 23, 1982, when Cochise County sheriff's deputies went up against the religious sect from the Christ Miracle Healing Center and Church.

Frances Thomas, who came to Southern Arizona from Chicago, led the religious sect.

Published by Larry Dempster and written by William Daniel, the second book came after the original "Shootout at Miracle Valley," which gave the sheriff's department ac-count of what happened that day.

The first book, printed in 2008, brought to light stories of what happened after the shooting when current Sheriff Larry Dever was shot and former deputy Ray Thatcher shot two church members who refused to lower their weapons.

Dempster said the second book was needed because the real story happened after the shooting when the county struggled to pay legal costs to prosecute church members and fight a $75 million lawsuit filed by Thomas against former Sheriff Jimmy Judd and Cochise County.

"The sheer number of defendants is staggering - 19 in the criminal trial and at least 19 in the $75 million lawsuit," the book states. "In addition, there are 30 to 50 church plaintiffs in the $75 million lawsuit."

Dempster published the first book in 2008 after promising Judd on his deathbed that he would tell the former sheriff's story about an intense conflict between local law enforcement and the sect that raged between 1979 and 1982.

Virgil Judd, the former sheriff's son, attended Friday's book signing.

Even though he was the son of Sheriff Judd, Virgil said he had no idea about all that took place after the shooting, when his father's sanity was questioned and a settlement amount was sealed by courts and kept a secret from all.

"To me, this book was even more interesting to read than the first book," he said. "My dad had talked to me about some of it, but I didn't know about all the court stuff. And, really, it is just too bad those records were sealed."

Dempster wanted to reveal the settlement in the multi-million lawsuit, but said it would have taken tens of thousands of dollars to get a judge to unseal the records.

"The amount that cult got was sealed," Virgil Judd said. "I just don't understand why a judge would do that. Why not tell the public? It just tells me the final number must have been astronomical."

Daniel said in writing the second book he felt a lot of things were finally clarified.

"I was able to nail down a lot of significant things," he said. "We looked at how the settlement was really politically motivated. The point that the settlement was sealed is really an important chapter in this book. In my mind, a lot of unanswered questions are answered in this book."

Daniel said the second book has a lot more documentation than the first book, and autopsies were also studied in depth with experts on how the exit wounds on a body showed where victims were hit.

One of those who didn't need an autopsy report or a court record to recall that bloody day was Ray Thatcher, a member of the sheriff's swat team who was on scene first with his partner.

After being beaten with rakes and shovels by some of the women of the church, Thatcher recalled needing to stay on higher ground to have a clear view of the situation, but he ran into more members.

Thatcher talked about coming upon an armed church member.

"We had bullets going by and they missed me, thank goodness," he said. "I told one of the cult members to put down his rifle. I told him to put it down six or eight times and he just wouldn't. Instead, he aimed it at me, so I shot him and knocked him down. Then, another man came up and picked up the rifle and pointed it at me. I told him six or eight times to put it down, and he wouldn't, so I shot him four times."

At the time, Thatcher said he didn't think about the court battles that loomed from that day, only that he was grateful to survive.

"When I went home that night, I was just numb," he said. "Even my wife was asking me why I had to shoot those men. It was later that I realized what was going to happen. I may not have had a choice in firing my weapon that day, but it certainly put me on the spot afterward."

Thatcher faced a grand jury in 1984 before the U.S. attorney general ruled they would not indict or prosecute Thatcher in the shooting.

In the book, the defense attorneys' $40-an-hour fee to defend the 19 cult members charged in the shootings became a major issue, since the county was running out of money and was unsuccessful in getting a $500,000 loan from the state.

In the book, Sheriff Dever recalled giving his deposition while listening to lawyers complain about making $40 an hour.

"Here I was making $6 an hour, and I got shot," he said.

Dever and Thatcher said they are pleased Dempster and Daniel went forward with printing a second book.

"I think these books are terrific," Thatcher said. "They tell the story. It's not glazed over. It's the truth just the way it happened. It's hard to believe it happened so long ago. For me, it feels like it happened yesterday."

Dever said what's important about the second book is that it was driven by all the people that came out of the woodwork to tell their stories after the first book was printed.

"This really is a story about the people who lived this event and how it affected their lives," he said. "Having some of the church members come out and talk about what they went through makes this a better read in terms of human interest compared to just having the law enforcement perspective that was in the first book."

Besides stories from the cult members, the book also reveals the media spectacle the event became, with the sheriff's department facing daily reports of wrongdoing from local and national reporters, as well as being criticized by civil rights activists including the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

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