Imprisoned Cult Deprogrammer Gets Chance for a Second Trial

The Washington Post/September 20, 1994

Galen G. Kelly, a cult deprogrammer serving a seven-year prison sentence for kidnapping, has won a new trial after an appellate court ruled that prosecutors failed to turn over evidence to defense lawyers that could have exonerated him.

Kelly, 46, was convicted last year in U.S. District Court in Alexandria of kidnapping a District woman he believed to be a member of a religious group. He grabbed the wrong woman by mistake and released her a few hours later.

The kidnapping on May 5, 1992, took place after Kelly, of Esopus, N.Y. was hired by a woman to kidnap her daughter and break her connection with a group called the Circle of Friends. But instead of taking Beth Bruckert, Kelly and his associates whisked Bruckert's roommate off the street in the District.

Kelly claimed the woman he abducted, Debra Dobkowski, was a member of Circle of Friends and had set him up. In her trial testimony, however, Dobkowski insisted that she was an innocent victim and not part of the cult.

A three-judge panel with a U.S. Court of Appeals ordered the new trial Friday because prosecutors failed to share evidence with defense lawyers. Most of the evidence was tied to a federal investigation of Dobkowski's activities with the Circle of Friends on an unrelated matter, for which she later was convicted of conspiracy. Had the information been provided, the judges said, Kelly might not have been convicted.

Kelly has been in prison since conviction in May, 1993. His lawyer, Frank W. Dunham Jr., said he hoped prosecutors now would drop the case.


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