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  • Jason R. Smith
    ContraCostaTimes.com | 06/06/2004 | Theology marks Helzer s trialFrom the Contra Costa Times http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctimes/8853086.htm?1c
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 6, 2004
      ContraCostaTimes.com | 06/06/2004 | Theology marks Helzer's trial

      Theology marks Helzer's trial

      THEOLOGY LESSONS have never arrived in such a gruesome package.

      Beneath the tales of death and dismemberment that distinguish the murder trial of Justin Helzer runs a significant undercurrent of spirituality.

      In the trial's first five weeks, witnesses have explained the tenets of the Mormon faith and a Salt Lake self-help sect and delved into magic, Buddhism and the Helzer brothers' own perverse amalgam of belief systems.

      The defendant, witnesses have testified, was dismissed from the Mormon Church, practiced yoga and liked to discuss reincarnation with friends. His brother, Taylor, who has admitted murdering five people in the summer of 2000 and also is an excommunicated Mormon, formed a series of commandments called the "12 Principles of Magic."

      Another codefendant, Dawn Godman, said in court that she truly believed -- and may still -- that Taylor Helzer was a prophet who spoke regularly with God. Other witnesses shared that belief.

      The case has drawn a disturbing link between spirituality and crime. The brothers used their beliefs to justify their plans for extortion, prostitution, drug sales and murder.

      One of Taylor's goals was to overthrow Satan's minions in preparation for "Christ's millennial reign," Godman said.

      Like Taylor, Godman has pleaded guilty in the scheme, which left five people dead, including a retired Concord couple and the daughter of blues guitarist Elvin Bishop. Their three bodies were dismembered and thrown into the Delta.

      All three defendants participated in a Sacramento self-awareness program called Harmony that witnesses said "devastated" some members with its harsh, confrontational approach.

      Harmony participants would stand in front of a room full of people and talk about being molested and raped, trial witnesses have said. Bathroom breaks during the group's marathon empowerment sessions were allowed only with a staff escort.

      It was Harmony that Taylor valued most among the belief systems that he, Justin and Godman toyed with, several witnesses have said. Taylor demanded that people close to him complete the organization's three levels of training. People who didn't could not be trusted, he told his friends.

      Another of his plots involved having small-town mayors enlist their townspeople to self-help training. The residents then would donate money to help Taylor create a nationwide Harmony organization.

      In contrast, Justin Helzer purportedly was taken with New Age interests. Former roommates have testified that he often did yoga, grunting loudly with the exertion. He would debate Buddhism and other world religions and was an enthusiastic vegan.

      Groups like Harmony, which began in Salt Lake City and includes a lot of Mormons, have drawn warnings from Mormon leaders for the faithful to beware.

      A Bay Area spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hastened to distance the Mormon Church from the Helzers' beliefs, as did a former Mormon bishop who testified at Justin's trial.

      But Taylor apparently revered his Mormon upbringing enough to form a plan to assassinate church leaders and install himself in their stead, Godman told jurors.

      Godman came to believe angels watched over the trio during the murders.

      "It was my belief that I was doing God's work," she testified.

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