Prosecutor calls killer a 'psychopath,' religious extremist

San Francisco Chronicle/December 15, 2004
By Demian Bulwa

Glenn Helzer says he killed five people in the opening salvo of a battle to save the world from Satan, but he is nothing more than a "psychopath" and a religious extremist who sought to promote himself instead of God, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

During closing arguments in Helzer's death penalty hearing, Contra Costa County prosecutor Harold Jewett at times choked back tears as he described the savage murders and the victims. At other times, Jewett raised his voice as he pointed at Helzer.

At one point, while talking about the bonds between the victims and their family members, Jewett turned on a reciprocating saw similar to one that Helzer and his younger brother, Justin Helzer, used to cut up three victims before tossing them into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Over the noise from the saw, Jewett shouted, "What did the defendant do, literally and figuratively? He cut them apart!"

Helzer led his brother Justin and their roommate, Dawn Godman, in the slayings during an extortion plot in 2000. Glenn Helzer wanted the money to start a self-awareness group that he believed would spread peace and love and hasten Christ's return to Earth.

Defense attorney Suzanne Chapot will make her closing argument this morning. Chapot has said that Glenn Helzer should be spared the death penalty because he was a "sick person" driven to kill by mental illness, drug use and participation in intense self-awareness seminars that he used "to justify his incredibly bizarre ideas."

Glenn Helzer, 34, entered a surprise guilty plea earlier this year to the murders just before he was to be tried alongside his brother. A jury in August recommended death for Justin Helzer, 32, rejecting his attorneys' claim that he was under the spell of his older brother.

Godman, 30, agreed to testify for the prosecution under a deal that will send her to prison for 38 years to life.

The three killed Ivan and Annette Stineman, a retired Concord couple, after trying to extort $100,000 from them. They killed Selina Bishop, the daughter of bluesman Elvin Bishop, after using her as a go-between for the money. All were dismembered.

Glenn Helzer then shot Jennifer Villarin, Selina Bishop's mother, and her friend James Gamble in Marin County because Villarin had seen his face.

On Tuesday, Jewett made frequent references to religion and philosophy as he argued that Helzer took advantage of fellow Mormons' fear of the apocalypse when he claimed to be a prophet and religious warrior.

At the same time, Jewett sought to show that Helzer's belief that he communicated with God wasn't delusional. "That is a tenet of the religious faith that millions of people believe in," he said.

Jewett said Helzer's attempts to evade capture showed he understood that what he was doing was wrong. The prosecutor also outlined the sheer depravity of Helzer's actions, which included feeding a piece of human flesh to a rottweiler.

"This is not a movie," Jewett said. "The most chilling aspect of this case is that it really happened."

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