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Alleged Satanist Sentenced for Defacing Church

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Thursday ordered an alleged satanic cult member who was convicted of defacing a Glendale church with anti-Christian graffiti to serve three years’ probation and undergo psychological treatment.

Robert Nusslein, 20, of Los Angeles, also received a five-year suspended sentence. If Nusslein violates conditions of his probation, which include providing restitution to his victims, he will have to serve the prison term, said Judge Rodney Nelson.

The Rev. Philip Wood, pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Glendale, which was vandalized, said Thursday that he and his roughly 1,500-member congregation prayed that the experience would generate something good for Nusslein and the others.

“We’ve been praying for them every week and will continue to do so,” Wood said. “That they will find a more positive expression of different points of view. . . . That what they did to us is not necessary to do to anyone else.” Deputy Dist. Atty. Ellen Aragon, who prosecuted the case, said the vandalism, which included spray-painted pentagrams, inverted crosses and other anti-Christian symbols and slogans, was outrageous.

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“I think most people who take their religion seriously, even Satanism, don’t do foolish things like this,” Aragon said.

Nusslein on Tuesday pleaded no contest. He was one of three people charged several weeks after the First United Methodist Church was found damaged Feb. 26, 1995.

Police said the trio idolized Charles Manson and Richard Ramirez, known as the Night Stalker. They were trying to form a satanic organization and believed Christianity was corrupt, police said.

Only Nusslein and Phillip Michael Dunigan, who was 18 when the church was damaged, were charged with the vandalism. One other suspect, Damian Chavez of San Gabriel, in September was placed on probation after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor weapons charge.

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In May 1995, Dunigan, also of San Gabriel, pleaded guilty to one count of vandalizing religious property. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail and three years’ probation and was ordered to pay $327 in restitution to the church and perform 50 hours of community service.

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Also last year, Nusslein was found incompetent to stand trial and was sent to a state hospital for a short time before being reevaluated and cleared to face the charges.

On Thursday, Aragon said she would have preferred to see Nusslein sent directly to state prison--he faced a maximum of seven years--but that the suspended sentence was a substantial threat to him.

“This is what he would have gotten if he went to trial and was found guilty of all charges,” Aragon said. “It was a tough call for the judge. . . . Nobody has a crystal ball. . . . This guy could be a ticking time bomb.”

But Nusslein’s lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Steve McManus, said his client originally did not realize the gravity of the vandalism. Now he does and is willing to follow the probation requirements, McManus said.

“He was remorseful from early on,” McManus said. “I think to some degree he was influenced by others.”

Wood said that his own Christian beliefs do not keep him from respecting other religions, but that he is against Satanism. “Satanism is based on a concept of evil and, yes, I do have a problem with Satanism,” he said. “I would hope that they would find their way within Christian faith.”

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