Defense lawyers are trying to have woman found incompetent in cult case
DENVER (AP) - Lawyers for a woman who allegedly was abducted here one year ago in an attempt by her parents to break her ties with a religious sect are fighting to have her found incompetent to testify about the incident. Lawyers for Emily Deitz, a follower of the Guru Maharaj Ji - who heads the Divine Light Mission - claim the sect has control over her mind and has eliminated her ability to think for herself.
Denver District Court Judge Edward Carelli recently appointed a psychiatrist to examine Ms. Dietz, who is the key witness in the criminal case. Carelli is to decide whether she is competent to testify at the trial, scheduled to begin July 19.
The alleged abduction led to the indictment of the woman's parents, Dr. Leonard Loeb Deitz and Esther Leah Deitz of Silver Springs, Md., along with Denver policeman Mark Roggeman, nationally known "deprogrammer" Joseph Phillip Alexander Jr., and six others who allegedly assisted in the abduction.
Dr. and Mrs. Dietz pleaded guilty last December to false imprisonment and were placed on two years probation. Three others pleaded guilty to similar charges, but five of the defendants have pleaded innocent.
At the time of their pleas, Dr. and Mrs Deitz said they planned the abduction of their daughter from the Divine Light Mission because they felt the sect was controlling her mind.
Authorities claim Ms. Deitz, 23, was walking down an alley near downtown Denver on April 8, 1981 when she was seized by her father and two other men, pushed into a van and driven to Colorado Springs for deprogramming.
The indictment claims Ms. Dietz was confined for a week in a basement bedroom, where she was guarded by her father and deprogrammers then flown to Akron, Ohio and held in a house there for six days until she escaped by jumping from a second-story window at night and hitchhiking to a truck stop.
According to court records, Ms. Dietz became involved with the Divine Light Mission when she was 16, just before graduating from high school in the top three per cent of her class. Her parents said she lost interest in school, friends and family after joining the sect and attended college in Massachusetts for less than a year before dropping out.
Denver Deputy District Attorney Beth McCann said Ms. Dietz, who lives in the Denver area occasionally goes to hear the Maharaj Ji speak but isn't living with a group of followers, The cult, Ms. McCann says, doesn't have control over Ms. Dietz's mind.
"People have the impression that a flower child will run into the courtroom with a long, flowing dress," Ms. McCann said, "and it's not like that. It's our belief Emily is fine. She's articulate and in control of herself."
But Jonathan Olom, an attorney for Donny Edwin Hurst, one of the alleged deprogrammers, says Ms. Deitz's seven-year association with the cult could have affected her mind.
Olom and other defense attorneys have said they hope to argue a "choice of evils" defense during the trial. They contend those involved in the alleged kidnapping acted to stop a greater harm - the control of Ms. Dietz's mind by the cult.