Fomer cult leader gets 50 years in ex-follower's killing

Seattle Times/October 31, 2001

Chris Turgeon seemed unusually relaxed for a man who had just been sentenced to more than 50 years in prison for murder.

But "wait until 2004," said Royce Ferguson, one of his attorneys. "That'd be the time to check in on old Chris."

Turgeon, an apocalyptic former cult leader convicted of the 1998 murder of one of his ex-followers, once predicted the world would end March 22, 2004.

Even if he's wrong, the 38-year-old Turgeon will almost certainly die behind bars. The sentence handed down yesterday by Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Joseph Thibodeau will be served on top of a prison term of 89 years to life that Turgeon was given in California last year for trying to kill a police officer and committing a string of robberies.

Thibodeau granted prosecutors' request by giving Turgeon a sentence at the high end of the standard range for slaying 40-year-old Dan Jess. The judge, imposing a sentence of 50 years and eight months, called the shooting a "senseless killing."

Prosecutors said Turgeon and Blaine Applin, one of Turgeon's followers in the now-defunct cult known as the Gatekeepers, killed Jess at his Mountlake Terrace trailer early March 29, 1998, because Jess knew they had bilked local businesses and clients of money before skipping town and resettling in Southern California.

Though Applin was the gunman, prosecutors recommended a shorter sentence for his first-degree-murder conviction, saying he was clearly the follower in the slaying. The judge agreed, sentencing Applin last week to about 39 years.

It was the second trial on the first-degree-murder charges for both men. Earlier this year, the judge declared a mistrial when jurors could not reach a decision, splitting 11-1 in favor of conviction after three days of deliberations.

While 31-year-old Applin was somber and spoke remorsefully during his sentencing, Turgeon seemed indifferent yesterday until he was asked if he wished to make any statements. He then launched into a tirade about modern American civilization, saying that by condemning him, society was also condemning American soldiers who had fought in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War II.

But Turgeon was more subdued than he was during his sentencing in California, when he sang the national anthem.

Turgeon's lawyers, Ferguson and Guss Markwell, had argued that Turgeon was insane. They said yesterday that they were not surprised by his sentence.

"I think it's an appropriate sentence," Markwell said.

Jess' father, Edwin Jess, who was at yesterday's hearing, said he was comforted by the sentence but nonetheless believed Turgeon and Applin had gotten off too lightly.

"My son's dead; they're still living," the Edmonds man said. "But they're living in hell, I guess."

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