Church case jury may be recalled

Anchorage Daily News, May 24, 2000
By S.J. Komarnitsky

PALMER - A Superior Court judge wants to recall the jury in a case in which a Palmer area family claimed a local church brainwashed their daughter.

In a notice filed Monday, Superior Court Judge Eric Smith said he planned to reconvene the jurors because the verdict they issued may not have been what they intended. Church attorney Tim Lamb is opposing the move, and a hearing on the issue is scheduled for today.

At issue in the civil suit is how much jurors meant to hold Wasilla Ministries accountable for the actions of Jodi Logan six years ago. Logan ran away from home three times and accused her father of sexual abuse, a claim she now says church members pressured her to make.

In the May 16 verdict, the jury held the church 10 percent responsible and Logan 25 percent responsible.

It split the remaining 65 percent between eight church members, including Pastor Marion Sands, whom they held accountable for 30 percent of the damage.

But the jurors told the judge after the trial that they had intended to hold the church 75 percent responsible in the case.

Attorney Ben Whipple, who represents Logan and her parents, said jurors told him they assumed they had done so by assigning some responsibility to the church members.

Smith said jurors were upset when they learned their verdict had done otherwise.

The distinction is financially significant because Logan's family sought damages only from the church corporation, which is insured.

Since the church was held only 10 percent accountable, Logan and her family received $23,450, or 10 percent of the total $234,500 in damages awarded. That award would rise to more than $175,000 if the church were held 75 percent accountable.

Smith wants to send jurors back into deliberations with a two-page questionnaire asking whether their verdict reflected what they had agreed upon and, if it didn't, what percentage of fault they had intended to assign to the church and to Logan.

But Lamb, who represents the church, said recalling the jury is unfair. "If there was a problem, it should have been corrected before we left the courtroom," he said. "You don't let the jurors go home to talk to neighbors and friends."

Whipple said if the jurors truly were confused, they should be given a chance to correct themselves. He said that jurors told him they thought by naming church members they were holding the church accountable.

"The judge isn't asking them to decide anything, he said. "He's only asking whether this verdict actually reflects what they decided."

During the trial, Logan and her parents contended Wasilla Ministries, led by Sands, used a program of "persuasive coercion" to brainwash Logan, including telling her that her parents were possessed by demons.

Church members said they were only trying to help a girl in trouble at home and that the real reason she ran away was to be with her then-boyfriend, Sands' son Will.

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