Defense in Religious Kidnap Trial Seeks to Blame Victim

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The parents and three other people accused of kidnaping Ginger Brown were actually baited to do it by the victim herself so she could sue her family for money to bankroll the small religious organization to which she belonged, according to a defense theory proposed Monday to the jury hearing the trial.

"She did everything to attempt to be kidnaped," Herb Weston, one of five defense attorneys, told the eight-man, four-woman jury hearing the case in Vista Superior Court. Weston represents Holly Rae Brown, one of Ginger Brown's three sisters and one of five defendants facing kidnaping, false imprisonment and battery charges after Ginger Brown's abduction from an Encinitas parking lot in May, 1988.

"She was motivated to get money from her parents to keep the group going and to keep anybody else from being kidnaped from the group," Weston said. "There was a taking, but it wasn't against the will of Ginger Brown. She was a willing participant, to help the group . . . get money from her parents."

Weston, not specifically mentioning but alluding to a subsequent civil lawsuit filed by Ginger Brown against her parents, said the group hoped "to make $50 million" because of the kidnaping. Ginger Brown's suit against her parents doesn't specify the amount sought.

Weston's remarks revealed the defense posture after defense attorneys complained that their previous defense strategy had been gutted in a series of pretrial rulings by Judge David B. Moon Jr. The defense had hoped to show that the five defendants kidnaped Ginger Brown, 23 at the time, for fear that her life was in danger because of her allegiance to Great Among the Nations, which describes itself as a small, close-knit fundamental Christian Bible study and evangelistic group.

But Moon argued that there was no showing of fact that Ginger Brown's life was in danger, and therefore the "lesser-of-two-evils" defense could not be used.

The defendants, Ginger Brown's parents, Earle and Dorothy Brown, 58, of Santa Cruz; Holly Rae Brown; Clifford Daniels, a self-described deprogrammer from Los Angeles, and Hank Erler of Escondido, said they believe that Great Among the Nations is a religious cult whose leader, Ben Altschul, enjoys a lavish life style at the expense of the group's members.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Gary Rempel told the jury on Monday that Brown was kidnaped and held against her will at Erler's Escondido home for five days before she escaped and returned to her friends.

Rempel said Brown was "hit, choked and pinned" in the back of a van after she was abducted from the parking lot and said that her father "bent her thumbs back and tried to constrain her" during the getaway to Escondido.

He said that, during her captivity, she was struck, scratched, swung into a cabinet and yelled at, was never left alone and was forced to sleep with a light on. Daniels dared Ginger Brown to take him to court, Rempel said, and threatened to "imprison her for six months or more" to get her to disavow her allegiance to Great Among the Nations.

"He advised her he could snap her arms and legs like twigs," Rempel said. When Brown refused to give in, Rempel said, Daniels looked upward and said, "Dear Lord, I tried to save her. She won't accept Jesus, and now she's going to hell."

Brown was told that, if she didn't renounce her allegiance to Great Among the Nations, "she'd be taken to a private mental hospital in San Francisco and be held against her wishes," Rempel said.

Ginger Brown jumped from the van and ran to safety five days after her abduction, Rempel said. The defendants had said previously that they had given up on their deprogramming effort and were releasing her.

Only two of the five defense attorneys opted to make an opening argument Monday. Charles Duff, representing Erler, said his client was involved only because his mother, Nan Erler, owed a debt of gratitude to Daniels for having previously snatched one of her daughters from another group and extended permission for Ginger Brown "to be in her home." During the captivity, Hank Erler only restrained Brown "from her many attempts to injure herself," Duff said.

Weston forwarded the general defense notion that Ginger Brown herself baited the kidnaping by "forcing her parents to take this action."

He argued that Ginger Brown purposely became distant from her family to arouse their concerns for her welfare and planted the notion in their mind of hiring Daniels to kidnap her by warning her parents not to do so.

Weston charged that Ben Altschul's "main motivation in starting the group was to make money. Ginger Brown and Ben Altschul got together to form a plot in which they were going to force her parents to take action. They wanted the kidnaping . . . to make $50 million."

The plot included the "leaking" of supposed plans by the group to leave the country in order to heighten the parents' sense of urgency to abduct their daughter, Weston said.

Ginger Brown then inflicted the injuries on her body--including bruises and abrasions that were shown on videotape to the jury--to add credence to her eventual request for monetary damages, Weston said.

"They wanted to accomplish what it is we're here for today," Weston said of the criminal proceedings.

Rempel, outside the courtroom, scoffed at the defense theory, saying the defense was "dressing up a dead horse in a different blanket."

Rempel's first witness was Jo Rae Inman, who said she was in a car in the Encinitas parking lot and saw Brown's abduction.

"She kept screaming, and it was a very, very violent scream," Inman said of Brown's reaction. The man who took her--who has not been identified--punched Brown so hard in the jaw that she fell backward into the open side door of a waiting getaway van, she said.

Asked Rempel sarcastically, "Did she (Brown) perhaps dive at his fist with her face?" No, Inman said.

Moon has separated the trial into two phases. After the jury deliberates on the charges of kidnaping, false imprisonment and assault, the second phase will provide broader-based testimony on three related conspiracy counts, at which time the defendants' state of mind leading to their actions will be admissible.

The trial, which continues today, is expected to last three weeks or longer.

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