- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

MARTINEZ, Calif. (AP) — A jury recommended the death penalty yesterday for a man who four years ago killed an elderly couple and the daughter of blues guitarist Elvin Bishop as part of a quasi-religious extortion plot.

The jury also recommended a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for Justin Helzer for his role in the deaths of another couple.

Many in the jury of 10 women and two men held hands in the jury box and cried as a clerk polled them about their decisions after the three-month trial. Helzer stared straight ahead and appeared to be unmoved.

Last month, Helzer interrupted opening statements of the penalty phase of his trial by saying, “I want this life to be over. … I want to die.”

Prosecutors described Helzer, 32, as a cold-blooded and arrogant killer who deserved death. He had been convicted of five counts of murder.

Helzer’s lawyer, Daniel Cook, pleaded with jurors to “find compassion in your heart,” saying that Helzer was under the control of his older brother and was remorseful.

Helzer; his older brother, Glenn; and friend Dawn Godman killed five persons in the summer of 2000. The killings of Selina Bishop; her mother, Jennifer Villarin; her mother’s boyfriend, James Gamble; and Ivan and Annette Stineman were part of an extortion scheme to earn money for a self-awareness group that the Helzers said would hasten Christ’s return to Earth.

The bodies of Miss Bishop and the Stinemans were sawed up and stuffed into gym bags, their jaws removed to prevent identification, and the bags were thrown into a river.

“Justice was done,” Olga Land, Miss Villarin’s sister, said outside court.

Glenn Helzer pleaded guilty, but faces the death penalty because prosecutors had offered no deal. Godman also pleaded guilty and testified in exchange for a lengthy prison sentence.

A judge will formally sentence Helzer on Sept. 24.

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