Turgeon insists he's not insane

Everett Herald/May 16, 2001
By Scott North

The former leader of a now-defunct religious group testified at his murder trial Tuesday that he is not insane and that his attorneys are ignorant and working for Satan.

Christopher Turgeon, 37, spent an entire day on the witness stand, calmly telling a Snohomish County jury that he is a modern manifestation of the biblical prophet Elijah. He claimed he was ordered by God to oversee what he called the March 1998 "execution" of a former member of his group in Mountlake Terrace, and that the killing was biblically justified and not murder.

Turgeon, who is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Dan Jess, 40, testified that his main purpose on earth is to warn mankind that an angry God soon plans to unleash apocalyptic fury. Turgeon said that Scripture, dreams and the 1997 appearance of the Hale-Bopp comet have all shown him that the world as we know it will end by March 22, 2004.

Between now and then, Turgeon said, half the world's population will die through "cataclysmic, catastrophic forces of judgment" unleashed by God. People must repent or face damnation, including his own attorneys, Royce Ferguson and Guss Markwell of Everett, Turgeon said.

He said it is evil for his attorneys to argue that he is innocent by reason of insanity, and that they are unknowingly working for Satan by playing a role in his trial. Turgeon is the former leader of a religious group called The Gatekeepers, which began as a Bible study group based in Snohomish County and ended as a small organization of armed religious separatists living in Southern California.

Turgeon and fellow Gatekeeper Blaine Alan Applin, 30, made headlines in the San Diego area for a 1998 robbery spree that included holdups at adult-oriented businesses, which the pair claimed could be "plundered" under God's laws. Both were convicted of 17 felonies each, including attempting to murder a police officer. The pair are now on trial in Everett for killing Jess, a former Gatekeeper who had left the group after a falling out with Turgeon.

Jurors have heard from other former members of the group that Turgeon considered Jess a threat, and also believed the man was a homosexual. Turgeon left no doubt Tuesday that he believed Jess must die, a fate that he claims God commands for gays, abortionists, pornographers, psychics, politicians and some feminists.

"I couldn't say no to God," Turgeon said. "How could I say no to God unless I want to go to hell?" Turgeon's attorneys are arguing that he isn't guilty of murder because he suffers from mental illness, including a belief that he was receiving holy direction to violate the law. Applin is raising a similar defense, but also arguing that Turgeon manipulated him into murder.

Jurors have heard from a forensic psychologist called by Applin's attorney, Pete Mazzone, who characterized Turgeon as a self-centered, "charming and sophisticated psychopath" who was able to manipulate those around him by using religion. Turgeon spent much of Tuesday portraying himself as a gifted, righteous man whose life has been shaped by miracles, the ability to prophesy and several direct conversations with God. At the same time, he also recounted, often in mind-numbing detail, how he has been the victim of myriad insults and injuries, starting from before he was born and continuing into adulthood.

Sometimes, Turgeon said, he has struck back, including a spanking that he admitted giving a former fiance after she suddenly broke off their relationship and took up with a former boyfriend. The defendant said he's been slandered by some of the testimony at trial, and that he has a biblical justification for nearly all of his actions.

That includes writing a bad check to a Snohomish transmission repair company in 1998, a fraud that Jess knew about and prosecutors allege may have been connected to his killing. Turgeon testified that he was justified in writing the bad check because the repair shop had pinups of nude women on the walls.

"At that point, God said 'Plunder him!' I knew what he meant, so I wrote a check he could not cash," Turgeon said. The defendant punctuated his testimony with frequent readings of biblical scripture and at one point sang a verse from one of the religious songs he had composed.

The song, "Idols Crashing Down," was what he was singing one night in June 1994 when his television suddenly crashed to the floor inside his home, Turgeon said. It was the night former football legend O.J. Simpson became a suspect in the murders of his wife and one of her friends.

"God spoke to me and said, 'Tonight an idol has fallen in America,' " Turgeon said. He also said that God later revealed to him in a dream that Simpson had killed his wife. Why, Markwell wondered, would God waste one of his prophet's time on the O.J. Simpson case? To show that there is no justice for the righteous, Turgeon said.

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