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Ohio Man Linked to L.A. Krishna Killing : Suspect Also Accused of Slaying Sect Member in W. Virginia

Times Staff Writer

A Hare Krishna member from Ohio has been charged with the contract murder of a vociferous critic of the religious sect, whose bullet-riddled body was found last month in West Los Angeles, authorities said Thursday.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said it filed a murder complaint earlier this week against Thomas Arthur Drescher, 37, in the death of Stephen Leslie Bryant. His body was discovered May 22 in a van parked near the intersection of Cardiff and Flint avenues.

Bryant, 33, a former resident of the sect’s New Vrindaban community near Moundsville, W. Va., was well-known in Hare Krishna circles for the pamphlets he distributed nationwide questioning the authority of movement leaders and accusing them of prostitution, drug use and other illegal acts, Deputy Dist. Atty. Sterling E. Norris said.

Victim Out on Bail

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At the time of his death, Bryant was out on bail pending the appeal of his conviction in West Virginia for carrying a concealed weapon, Prosecuting Atty. Thomas White said in a telephone interview from Marshall County, W. Va.

Bryant’s mother told police that her son had feared for his life and that he blamed the religious sect for the breakup of his marriage.

Drescher was arrested May 27 in Kent, Ohio, and charged with the murder of Charles Saint Denis, another man associated with the Hare Krishna movement, who disappeared in June, 1983, White said. Drescher is being held without bail in the Marshall County jail pending a grand jury investigation.

Norris would not say who might have ordered Bryant’s death. Nor would he say whether information linking Drescher to Bryant was provided by the same witness who told West Virginia authorities, according to White, that Drescher had admitted to him that he killed Saint Denis, whose body has never been found.

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Witness Injured

The day after Drescher’s arrest, the witness, Randall Gorby, was seriously injured in an explosion at his home in Bethany, W. Va. He remains hospitalized, but a statement from him was read Thursday at Drescher’s preliminary hearing, White said.

The West Virginia prosecutor said the FBI was investigating the explosion.

White said he is not certain whether Saint Denis was still a Hare Krishna member at the time of his disappearance, but he noted that members of the New Vrindaban community reported that the victim had dropped out of the movement.

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He also declined to suggest a motive for the killing, but he said at the preliminary hearing “evidence was presented that indicated there had been some dispute over a house and some land being bought and sold between Saint Denis and Drescher.”

Norris said his office is seeking to extradite Drescher from West Virginia, but White indicated that authorities there would resist such efforts while their case is pending.

Michael Grant, spokesman for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, was unavailable for comment.

Staff writer Paul Feldman contributed to this article.

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