Closing Arguments Begin In Helzer Murder Trial

Associated Press/June 14, 2004

Martinez, Calif. -- It took a prosecutor more than a month and 100 witnesses to make his case against Justin Helzer, who is accused of killing five people, dismembering three of them and dumping duffel bags full of body parts into the Mokelumne River during a crime spree meant to deliver God's love to the world.

Helzer, 32, faces five counts of murder, kidnapping, robbery, extortion and other charges resulting from the horrors he is accused of committing in the summer of 2000. He's pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and if convicted, could be sentenced to death.

Closing arguments began Monday with prosecutor Hal Jewett laying out the law, defining each offense and expounding upon on Helzer's connection to each one. A hunting knife, a handgun and other weapons stood on the table in front of him while jurors paid close attention, often nodding their heads in apparent agreement.

While Jewett acknowledged the case's "horrible complexity," he also pointed to "a mountain of evidence, both direct and circumstantial" against Helzer.

Jewett alleges Helzer, his older brother, Glenn, and their friend, Dawn Godman, killed the victims as part of a scheme to raise money for a self-help organization, called Impact America, they wanted to start to help people "find joy, peace and love." Believing they were fulfilling God's plan, they called themselves "Children of Thunder."

"Power. That's what the war on Satan was all about," Jewett said. "It's an usurpation of power that he has no authority to take."

Helzer's public defender, Dan Cook, portrayed his client as a nerdy, unpopular follower who was under his big brother's spell and believed Glenn Helzer spoke as a prophet of God.

In August 2000, dive teams found the remains of Selina Bishop, the 22-year-old daughter of blues guitarist Elvin Bishop, and Ivan and Annette Stineman, an elderly Concord couple, inside gym bags floating in the Sacramento River delta.

Selina Bishop's mother, Jennifer Villarin, 45, and her mother's friend, James Gamble, 54, were found shot to death the same week in Selina Bishop's apartment in the North Bay town of Woodacre. They were house-sitting for Selina Bishop, who was believed to be camping in Yosemite National Park.

Glenn Helzer, 33, who had been Selina Bishop's boyfriend and a former stockbroker for the Stinemans, unexpectedly pleaded guilty in March to 18 felony charges. The plea was not made as part of any agreement with prosecutors, and he still faces the death penalty.

Godman, 30, also pleaded guilty in July 2003 and avoided the death penalty by agreeing to testify against the brothers.

While Justin Helzer had a direct hand in the deaths of the Stinemans and Bishop, he also helped dismember their bodies with a hunting knife and saw, Jewett alleged.

"This was a two-man operation from beginning to end," Jewett said. "These guys were covered in blood. ... Someone was holding a piece while someone else was operating the saw."

Because Justin Helzer's lawyer has tried to portray the older brother as the ringleader, Jewett went into great detail about the alleged conspiracy and how Justin Helzer is culpable in the entire crime spree, including the deaths of Villarin and Gamble.

"With knowledge alone ... he is responsible equally with his brother for the murders of Jennifer and James," Jewett said.

Jewett also pointed out that among the trio, Justin Helzer alone did not use illegal drugs, which were being sold, in part, to help finance their scheme.

"He was the one guy who was well-grounded," Jewett said, pointing at Justin Helzer who sat ramrod straight without looking at the prosecutor for most of the morning. "He was the anchor for the Children of Thunder."

After the prosecutor rested his case against Justin Helzer last week, Helzer's public defender announced he would call no witnesses.

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