Four people hired by a Silver Spring doctor and his wife to get their daughter out of a religious cult last year have pleaded guilty in Denver District Court to kidnaping charges.
Joseph Alexander Jr., a nationally known "deprogrammer," and three others pleaded guilty to one count each of second-degree kidnaping under an agreement with the Denver district attorney. They received two-year deferred sentences, which means that the cases against them will be dismissed if they do not break the law in the next two years.
Alexander, 30, of Hunlock Creek, Pa., Donny Hurst, 32 of Fresno, Calif., Russell Bennett, 22, of Kent, Ohio, and Marilyn Crowe, 29 of Stow, Ohio, had been hired in 1980 by Leonard and Esther Deitz, a Silver Spring couple, whose daughter Emily, 23, has been a follower of the Guru Mahraj Ji since 1974.
Emily's parents had tried twice before to break the guru's influence over their daughter through psychological coercion known as "deprogramming." In April 1981, with the help of the defendants, they took her from a Denver alley and kept her locked up for more than a week in a house in Colorado Springs.
The Deitzes were prosecuted by the district attorney's office and pleaded guilty to false imprisonment last December. The parents, both active in the anticult movement, received two-year deferred sentences. The district attorney's office was flooded with letters from all over the country on both sides of the emotional issue of religious cults.
Alexander and the other defendants initially pleaded not guilty, contending that their violation of the law as contrasted with Emily's continued membership in a religious cult was the "lesser of two evils." A mistrial was declared in July when Emily spoke to one of the witnesses.
A lawyer for Alexander said that while the deprogrammer and the other defendants entered guilty pleas, they do not admit they were guilty.
Charges are still pending against a Denver policeman who was accused of helping the Deitzes in the kidnaping, and deprogrammer Thomas Gibian, who faces felony charges in the case and is fighting extradition from Maryland.