Cult member gets 39-year term

Blaine Applin, convicted in the 1998 Mountlake Terrace murder of Dan Jess, is sentenced to 39 years in prison.

Everett Herald/October 23, 2001
By Scott North

Blaine Applin once wanted to be a minister, and as a younger man, he said he hoped for nothing more than to "find God and find myself."

Instead, the 31-year-old former Snohomish County man stood in a courtroom Monday and listened while a judge found reasons he should be sentenced to more than 39 years in prison for a 1998 murder.

Applin was once the devoted follower of Christopher Turgeon, 38, a self-proclaimed prophet who founded a violent religious sect called The Gatekeepers. Along with Turgeon, Applin three years ago traveled from Southern California, where the group was based, to the Mountlake Terrace home of Dan Jess, 40, a former member.

Applin shot Jess to death early one Sunday morning while Turgeon, who claims to be a modern manifestation of the Biblical prophet Elijah, sat at the wheel of their get-away car.

A Snohomish County jury in late September found the pair guilty of first-degree murder.

Applin on Monday apologized to Jess' family and said he now knows that he was led terribly astray, "The Bible warns of wolves in sheep's clothing," he said.

But superior court Judge Joseph Thibodeau said everyone is given choices in life, and Applin decided to follow a man who led him to commit "a senseless killing."

While the evidence is clear that Applin and others in the Gatekeepers were doing Turgeon's will, that doesn't excuse the wrong, the judge ruled.

Applin's sentence was at the low end of the punishment range recommended under state sentencing guidelines. But it likely would have made little difference if he had been sentenced to the top punishment of 50 years.

That's because, along with Turgeon, Applin already is sentenced to about 100 years in prison in California for 17 felony convictions, including attempting to murder a police officer who was shot at as he tried to pull them over after a holdup.

Even with time off for good behavior, Applin won't be eligible for parole on his California convictions until 2084, said his attorney, Pete Mazzone of Everett.

In what he acknowledged was a largely symbolic gesture, Mazzone asked the judge to consider sentencing his client to 25 years in prison, the absolute minimum allowed for a first-degree murder with a firearm.

Turgeon taught his followers that God wanted them to kill those Turgeon deemed wicked, including homosexuals, doctors who perform abortions and people who believe in equal rights for women. All of the California crimes were committed as part of a Turgeon-orchestrated campaign that was supposed to trigger the Apocalypse.

Lawyers for Turgeon and Applin tried to show that the men were innocent of Jess' killing by reason of insanity.

The pair first went on trial for the killing in May, but a mistrial was declared after jurors deadlocked 11-1, with a majority voting to convict. Both juries heard from Turgeon, who claimed Jess' killing and the California robbery spree were acts of holy war.

Applin's family on Monday lobbied Thibodeau to recommend he be able to serve his time in a Washington prison so he can be closer to his wife, their children and other relatives. The judge granted their request, but took pains to explain that he can't order corrections officials in Washington or California to take such a step.

Applin's family also tried to show that he still has something to offer. His mother, at one point during the hearing, tearfully showed Jess' family envelopes and letters that Applin has decorated with intricate drawings for his children.

Ed Jess, the victim's father, put a quick end to the display.

"My son was an artist also," he said. "I believe in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. I'm sorry."

Turgeon's sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 30.

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