A Westlake Village man was awarded $1.5 million Wednesday for harm done to him while he was an architect for the Calabasas-based Church Universal and Triumphant.
“I was a victim of this cult for six years,” Gregory Mull, 64, said after a Los Angeles Superior Court jury announced its verdict against the sect and its leader, 46-year-old Elizabeth Clare Prophet, known to her followers as Guru Ma.
The jury deliberated more than 40 hours before awarding the ex-church member $521,100 in compensatory damages, plus $521,100 in punitive damages from the church, a nonprofit corporation, and another $521,100 from Prophet.
Mull testified during the seven-week trial that he gave up a successful building and design business in San Francisco and in 1979 moved to church headquarters, an estate called Camelot, to help Prophet build the “New Jerusalem.”
He testified that when he was expelled from Camelot in 1980 after a dispute with the church over money, he was emotionally broken and then became so destitute that he had to forage for food in supermarket dumpsters.
Mull, who has multiple sclerosis, is unemployed.
While Mull was a disciple of Prophet, he believed her to be “God incarnate,” even acting on her advice to separate from the wife he loved, he testified.
Prophet, who claims to receive messages or “dictations” from Jesus, Buddha and other “ascended masters,” was in court throughout the trial but was not present for the verdict.
Her husband, Edward L. Francis, 35, vice president of the church, said the church will “unquestionably appeal.”
“The jury was presented with a barrage of prejudicial information about the church that was inaccurate,” Francis said after hearing the 11-1 decision. “We feel that basically our church and our beliefs were put on trial here.”
Francis and former church leader Monroe Shearer were co-defendants in the case. No damages were assessed against them.
Mull said he was pleased with the jury’s decision but had been praying for more in damages. He had asked for $253 million.
“I know many people who lost much,” he said. “If the jury had really wanted to go after the cult, they could have awarded more.”
Ironically, it was the church that initiated the court action, suing Mull in 1981 for allegedly failing to repay a loan of about $32,000.
Mull, who said the sum was owed him for expenses, countersued a few months later.
He charged that he was subjected to a form of thought control by Prophet and her church that allowed her to manipulate him and caused him permanent emotional harm. He also alleged that Prophet had violated the priest-penitent relationship by revealing the contents of a letter in which he confessed to homosexual experiences.
Although attorneys for both sides said religious belief was not at issue in the case, much of the testimony dealt with Prophet’s teachings, a blend of Eastern and Western philosophies, and such church practices as therapeutic enemas. As a witness, Prophet read church prayers, high-speed chants called decrees, into the court record.