Glenn Taylor, Justin Helzer & Dawn Godman
"The most chilling aspect of this case is that it really happened." -- Prosecutor Harold Jewett.
The two Helzer brothers; Glenn Taylor and Justin, were raised in a devoutly religious traditional Mormon family. Glenn Taylor was a handsome, eloquent, and personable San Francisco Bay area stockbroker turned Messiah. The brothers were excommunicated from the church for drug use.
Glenn frequently reminded his shy younger brother,"I'm No. 1, and you're No. 2."
Dawn Godman was a lonely woman seeking spirituality for a speed habit, broken marriage, and suicidal tendencies.
Glenn, Justin, and Dawn are the "Children of Thunder." The believed Glenn was a religious warrior.
On Memorial Day 1999, Dawn met the brothers at a murder mystery dinner at a Mormon Temple in Walnut Creek, CA. None of them fit in. Dawn was attracted to Glenn because, "He made you feel like you were the most important person in the world."
As night Dawn sat with Glenn in his car outside the Oakland Mormon Temple listening to his plans for Christ's return, he made her feel like a child in its parent's arms. As Glenn ordered her to kill in God's name, she said guardian angels encircled her. She considered it a blessing.
The brother’s grandfather in Salt Lake City and their cousins described Glenn as an enthusiastic kind, and respectful Mormon boy and teenager who was full of life. His aunt said her children enjoyed his teachings on respect for nature. His cousin described him as his mentor.
Glenn returned from a Mormon mission in Brazil in the early 1990s with views that differed from traditional Mormon doctrine. Determined to defeat Satan, "He started to say that the church was going in the wrong direction... the whole church was incorrect," said a Mormon friend. His aunt noticed changes in him. He began smoking cigarettes, drinking, and left his wife and child but was still coherent. Glenn who suffers from bipolar disorder was hospitalized during a psychotic break in 1998.
Glenn’s attorney claimed his problems bean with his participation in confrontational seminars called "Impact Trainings" and similar programs in Utah and Sacramento. "Impact Trainings," based in Salt Lake City was founded in 1985. Described as intense they are similar to "EST" and "Lifespring" programs that first became popular over 30 years ago. Defense witnesses described an "experiential" group experience that tears down participants through exploitation, humiliation and emotional pain in long, sessions of deprivation designed to awaken their "inner child." Overweight women are sometimes dressed as cows. Victims of child abuse are told they seduced their abuser and are responsible for their own abuse. After a person shares their deepest vulnerabilities the group shouts insults at them. They are given degrading labels such as "Dirty Slut" and that is the name they are required to use throughout the workshop. To use the bathroom they must be accompanied by staff (after obtaining permission -- which isn't always granted). These regimented sessions are emotionally so devastating that participants even vomit sometimes. They manipulate participants into spending more money on more advanced levels of trainings.
Utilizing high pressure techniques they have training participants recruit others to sign up for a few days of expensive abuse. The first phase, "Quest," was $495 for 40 hours in four days. (Witnesses said it is much longer than 10 hour days.) Second and third phases are $795 each.
These workshops, drug use, mental illness, and the belief that Glenn was a prophet spurred a horrible crime spree.
Glenn insisted that those close to him attend "Impact Trainings." Glenn pressured Keri Mendoza, a woman he dated, and Dawn, her replacement, to attend to "began a process of breaking down people's walls ... so they would be more open to his ideas," she said. She sat in a room with no windows for four days with approximately 30 other people through two program's "levels" to prepare her for work with Prophet Glenn in his ministry.
Justin claims "Impact Trainings" took away his ability to resist influence, however, the brothers were also "staffers" for "Impact Trainings" and other similar groups. (Staffers assist the facilitators.)
When Glenn spoke for God he told everyone to be quiet, as he ran into the rain, raised his hands to the sky and heard God tell him to kill the unfaithful. "If people aren't loyal to me, I'm just going to have to kill them."... He also planned to train Brazilian orphans to slaughter the leaders of the Mormon Church so he could become the leader.
Glenn needed money to launch his own training group "Transform America," to defeat Satan through "joy, peace, and love" with the creation of a Utopian paradise on earth. To fund the church Glenn made and sold Ecstasy and had a girlfriend pose for Playboy. She was replaced by Dawn.
Glenn's first intended victims weren't home, so on July 30, 2000 the "Children of Thunder" moved down their list to abduct Glenn's former clients, Ivan Stineman, 85, and his wife Annette Stineman, 78, after forcing them to sign over $100,000 in checks they held the elderly couple captive in a home the brothers rented where they were beaten, stabbed, decapitated, and dismembered in a bathtub on August 2, 2000. Glenn had Justin do most of it because he felt the need to meditate and listen to the Spirit for awhile. Afterwards they all kneeled as Glenn thanked Ivan and Annette for sacrificing their lives for a greater cause. August 2, 2000, after Glenn befriended, Selina Bishop, 22, daughter of blues musician Elvin Bishop, to have her cash the Steinman’s' checks, they used a hammer to bludgeon her to death to prevent her from exposing them. Before dismembering her, Glenn showed Dawn the body, and said, "Spirit says you get to know this isn't a dream."
The following morning, Glenn took Dawn with him to kill Selina's mom, Jennifer Villarin, 45, because she could identify him and Jennifer's boyfriend, James Gamble, 54, was murdered because he was a witness. Glenn shot the couple with a gun Justin bought under his own name. Dawn drove the getaway car.
Police promptly connected the five killings promptly and arrested Glenn, Justin, and Dawn on August 7, 2000. Glenn told police that Justin and Dawn were innocent. "Spirit said that I should not let them be in here," he told police.
Glenn and Dawn pleaded guilty. Dawn testified for the prosecution to spare her life, in exchange for a sentence of 38 years to life becoming eligible for parole after serving at least 35 years and nine months.
Justin pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, claiming Glenn manipulated him into committing murder convincing Justin that he was doing was a good thing.
During Justin’s trial, mental health experts for defense contended he had a "shared delusional disorder," "caught" from Glenn.
Prosecutor Harold Jewett said Justin was a willing participant who knew what he did was wrong as evidenced by his efforts to conceal the crimes.
Daniel Cook, Justin's defense attorney maintained he was influenced by his domineering older brother who he believed to be a prophet.
A defense psychiatrist said he was in a symbiotic relationship with his brother, who was more charismatic and successful and that he couldn't afford to lose the relationship.
Justin believed he was a soldier fighting a war against Satan when he murdered of five people a psychiatrist testified.
Dr. Robert Dolgoff said after a lifetime of self-perceived failure, Justin felt he had a significant role in the second coming of Christ and the abolishing of evil.
His psychosis was a solution to a life of rejection and neglect as the child of a mother who favored his older brother, Glenn. He felt like a “misfit and unsuccessful" in life. His depression due to low self-esteem made him mentally vulnerable to believing his brother was a prophet of God. Justin believed killing was part of God's master plan to defeat Satan. Dawn and Justin kept Glenn’s discussions with God a secret. Justin didn’t mention his brother was divinely inspired until after Dawn turned state's evidence.
Psychologist Larry Wornian for the prosecution said Justin knew killing was "grossly immoral." Justin was unlucky in love and struggling through life. He saw himself as "wimpy and unmasculine."
These feelings of inadequacy dissipated when he and his brother declared war on the devil, enthused by his new cause, Justin was imbued with a great sense of power.
“He found himself transformed in to a bold spiritual warrior on a mission ordained by God." Wornian said Justin told him he didn't want to kill, but it was God's grand scheme. He "cried his eyes out" as he smashed Selina Bishop's head in with a hammer. He knew people would look unfavorably on his actions.
To finance their crusade against evil, they attempted to start an escort service and deal drugs.
Justin told Wornian the brothers discussed hiring migrant workers to go into a McDonald's restaurant and kill everyone inside, leaving a threatening note at the scene, so the company's stock would crash, allowing them to purchase it and then wait for the stock price to climb again.
Wornian said Justin was not delusional at the time of the killings.
"Is our good president delusional because he feels God is guiding him through a complex world situation?" Wornian asked the jury.
The defense, claimed he was delusional at the time of the killings, believing his brother was a prophet of God and unable to discern morally right from morally wrong.
Wornian said given Justin's religious background, there was no reason for him to believe his brother wasn't a prophet of God.
Justin Helzer, 32, was convicted in June 2004 on multiple counts of first-degree murder in the killings of five victims.
After the verdict was read at Justin's trial, James Gamble's mother hugged Carma Helzer explaining that even though she lost one son, Mrs. Helzer was losing both her sons.
Outside the Helzer family's home, Heather, Justin's sister, said about his conviction.
"I believe the fact that we even got to the penalty phase in the trial shows that our society doesn't understand mental illness. It doesn't understand a person's ability to control it or not control it."
Jewett said Justin had not been diagnosed with a mental illness before he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He quoted Justin as saying he knew society would frown on the killings.
A cousin said there was a prevalent history of mental illness in Helzer's maternal relatives.
Prosecutor Harold Jewett turned on a reciprocating saw similar to one that the brothers used to cut up victims before placing them in gym bags and throwing them in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Jewett shouted, "What did the defendant do, literally and figuratively? He cut them apart!"
Glenn looked down throughout the entire trial, not even making eye contact with relatives or old friends.
Glenn Taylor, 34, and Justin, 33, joined the ranks of California's 637 death row inmates. Under state law, all death sentences are appealed. The brothers have at least 10 years of appeals, most likely it will be much longer. They will have a choice of lethal injection or the gas chamber. Lethal injection is the default if they fail to make the choice.
New York Times
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