Pala cult member convicted of 17 counts in crime spree

San Diego Union-Tribune, November 23, 1999
By Anne Krueger

A Superior Court jury that convicted a 26-year-old man yesterday of numerous charges, including an attempt to murder a police officer, is now being asked to decide whether he was sane when the crimes occurred.

Blaine Applin, a member of a small religious group in Pala known as The Gatekeepers, was found guilty of 17 felony charges in the first phase of a trial in which he has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

If the jury determines Applin is sane, he could be sentenced to life in prison. If he is found insane, he could spend the rest of his life in a state mental hospital.

Applin was convicted by the panel of attempting to murder San Diego police Officer Leonard Lefler on July 13, 1998, and with conspiring with Christopher Turgeon to kill Lefler. Prosecutors say Turgeon is the leader of The Gatekeepers.

Turgeon is scheduled to be tried in January. Both men also face murder charges in Washington in the March 1998 shooting death of a former Gatekeepers member outside Seattle. Prosecutor David Berry said Applin and Turgeon robbed a Kearny Mesa lingerie-modeling business, then planned to rob an adult bookstore in the Midway District to finance their religious group.

But Lefler spotted their station wagon near the bookstore. When the two saw the police car, they sped off with Lefler in pursuit. Lefler's car was behind their car on the on-ramp from Interstate 8 to northbound Interstate 5 when a bullet struck the police car's windshield.

Neither Lefler nor his ride-along passenger was hurt. Turgeon and Applin were arrested about 20 minutes later when police stopped them in the station wagon.

Applin's attorney, Charles Guthrie, had argued that Applin couldn't have fired the gunshot. He said the bullet must have been fired from above the police car, possibly from another vehicle.

In opening statements yesterday in the second phase of the trial, Guthrie said that Applin began hearing voices in his early 20s and believed there was a demon in his bedroom.

"He is a very delusional young man," Guthrie said. "Because of his delusions, he committed these crimes."

Berry countered that Applin met the legal definition of sanity when the crimes occurred: He understood that he was committing a crime.

Berry urged jurors to set aside testimony they will hear from a psychologist and psychiatrist hired by the defense, who are expected to say that Applin was insane.

"The psychologist and the psychiatrist have their opinions, but that's what they are -- opinions," Berry said.

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