Alleged Wisconsin Cult Nun Found Competent

Associated Press/June 17, 2008

Mauston, Wisconsin - A woman accused of helping her religious leader hide a dead woman in her bathroom for two months so they could go on collecting her Social Security is competent for trial, a judge ruled Monday.

A psychological evaluation found Tammy Lewis suffers from "mental abnormalities," but she has the wherewithal to assist with her defense, Juneau County Circuit Judge John Roemer said.

The judge sealed the seven-page evaluation.

But defense lawyer Dan Berkos said Lewis has been suffering from depression since her husband left her in 2004 and she joined the Order of the Divine Will religious group. Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth has called the order a cult.

Investigators said a 90-year-old member of the group, Magdeline Alvina Middlesworth, was living with Lewis and Lewis' children at Lewis' home in Necedah.

Court documents say Middlesworth died in March and Lewis kept her remains propped up on the toilet.

A sheriff's deputy discovered the body in May after Middlesworth's sister called and asked the department to check on her welfare.

According to a criminal complaint, Lewis initially said Middlesworth was on vacation. When pressed, she said she needed to call her "superior" first. Lewis went inside, returned and let the deputy in. The house smelled of incense and hymns played on the stereo.

Lewis told investigators Alan Bushey, the order's leader who calls himself Bishop John Peter, told her to leave Middlesworth's body in the bathroom and pray for God to bring her back to life. But investigators contend Bushey and Lewis kept the body hidden so they could go on collecting Middlesworth's Social Security and annuities.

Lewis, 35, and Bushey, 58, both of Necedah, each face felony counts of being party to causing mental harm to a child and hiding a corpse as well as misdemeanor counts of theft. Lewis also faces a misdemeanor count of obstructing an officer.

Berkos entered not guilty pleas for Lewis on the misdemeanor counts Monday. He also asked the judge to reduce Lewis' bail and allow her to live with her parents until the case is resolved.

Roemer initially set Lewis' bail at $50,000 and required her to post $5,000 before she could be freed. Berkos argued Lewis can't raise the money.

He said Lewis has lived in Wisconsin all her life and isn't a flight risk. Sitting in jail hasn't helped her mental issues, particularly her depression, he added.

Southworth acknowledged Lewis probably wouldn't flee and her problems won't get better in jail.

Roemer allowed Lewis to be released on a signature bond, live with her parents and have no contact with other members of the order, including Bushey and Linda Sumler, who calls herself Sister Mary of Joseph Sumler, according to Southworth. The judge also granted Lewis supervised visits with her children.

Berkos said after the proceeding he and Southworth have talked about a plea bargain for Lewis.

"Their target doesn't lie with Tammy," Berkos said. Southworth declined to comment on the discussions.

Roemer bound Bushey over for trial last week. He is set to enter pleas on June 23.

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