Eerie details emerge in cult killing trial

Theology lessons have never arrived in such a gruesome package

Contra Costa Times/June 7, 2004
By Matt Krupnick

Beneath the tales of death and dismemberment that distinguish the murder trial of Justin Helzer runs a significant undercurrent of spirituality.

In the trial's first five weeks, witnesses have explained the tenets of the Mormon faith and a Salt Lake self-help sect and delved into magic, Buddhism and the Helzer brothers' own perverse amalgam of belief systems.

The defendant, witnesses have testified, was dismissed from the Mormon Church, practiced yoga and liked to discuss reincarnation with friends. His brother, Taylor -- who has admitted to murdering five people in the summer of 2000 and also is an excommunicated Mormon -- formed a series of commandments called the ''12 Principles of Magic.''

Another co-defendant, Dawn Godman, said in court that she truly believed -- and may still -- that Taylor was a prophet who spoke regularly with God. Other witnesses shared that belief.

The case has drawn a disturbing link between spirituality and crime. The brothers used their beliefs to justify their plans for extortion, prostitution, drug sales and murder.

One of Taylor's goals was to overthrow Satan's minions in preparation for ''Christ's millennial reign,'' Godman said.

Like Taylor, Godman has pleaded guilty in the scheme, which left five people dead, including a retired Concord couple and the daughter of blues guitarist Elvin Bishop. Their three bodies were dismembered and thrown into the Delta.

All three defendants participated in a Sacramento self-awareness program called Harmony that witnesses said ''devastated'' some members with its harsh, confrontational approach.

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