Bhagwan women in final plea to US jury namesen in US cult 'led killing meetings'

Click to follow
Two British women members of the Rajneesh cult led "killing conferences" that planned the murder of Oregon's highest-ranking law enforcement officer 10 years ago, a court was told yesterday.

Winding up a case that some legal observers believe has been unexpectedly strong, Scott Glick, prosecutor for the US government, told the jury to disregard the fact that the women, Sally-Anne Croft and Susan Hagan, did not leave the cult commune to help arrange the murder of Charles Turner, then US Federal Attorney in Oregon.

The women, who are on trial for conspiracy to murder, were "sitting pretty back on the ranch, back in their executive suites. They were the superiors, they were the ones that sent out the followers - the extensions of their hands".

The commune of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh fell apart in late 1985 before the murder was carried out. With the defence due to present its closing arguments yesterday, observers at the trial predicted that the two Britons would be found guilty and severely punished.

"I think they are going to get 20 years," said Tim McHugh, attorney for a co-defendant in the case in South Africa who has not been extradited for trial. "The prosecution has put on a very impressive case."

Ms Croft and Ms Hagan, referred to throughout the trial by their former cult names, Ma Prem Savita and Ma Anand Su, are accused of taking part in several meetings at the cult's former headquarters, on a remote ranch in the centre of the state at which the assassination plan was devised.

The conspiracy, for which two other former cult members have already served prison sentences, shortened because of their agreement to testify in this trial, was allegedly hatched because Mr Turner was close to uncovering massive immigration fraud at the commune, where sham marriages were arranged for non-US cult followers with US citizens.

Mr Turner, the prosecution said, was "perceived as being their number one threat. Everything was at stake for them".

Twenty-nine prosecution witnesses were brought to the stand during the trial and several testified that the Britons had taken part in these meetings. Five guns allegedly bought for use in the assassination were submitted as evidence.

Underlining that the pair were not on trial for the murder, which never took place, Mr Glick told the jury: "The intent was to kill Charles Turner, to take one of the five guns, maybe the one that you remember with the long barrel, and to shoot him dead simply for doing his job."

The defence, which rested its case last week after calling only one witness whose testimony seemed if anything to backfire on the women, was expected to make one final attempt to discredit the prosecution witnesses, many of whom entered into plea bargains in exchange for testifying.

Mr McHugh, however, who has sat through all the trial, believes that those witnesses were mostly impressive, however. "These people were smart, they were articulate and they knew exactly what went on," he said.