Cult leader's lawyer argues insanity

He was sentenced to more than 80 years behind bars in California last year. He's on trial now for alleged first-degree murder in Snohomish County. But Chris Turgeon shouldn't be too worried, his attorney says.

After all, in his view, "the world is coming to end," Royce Ferguson said yesterday.

Turgeon, 37, is a self-proclaimed prophet and the charismatic force behind the Gatekeepers, a small religious cult that was based in Snohomish County before moving to a Southern California compound a few years ago. He believes he's heard the voice of God and had apocalyptic visions. He believes the world is ending March 22, 2004.

And he believes he's sane, though his lawyer says otherwise.

Ferguson is arguing that Turgeon is not guilty by reason of insanity for the March 1998 killing of Dan Jess, who had at one time been a member of the Gatekeepers. Another Gatekeeper, Blaine Applin, is on trial with Turgeon in Jess' killing.

Prosecutors filed charges against the two in October 1998, accusing them of killing the 40-year-old tree-cutter because he knew they had bilked money from local businesses and clients before relocating to a rural area 60 miles north of San Diego.

Jess was shot six times when he answered the door of his Mountlake Terrace trailer in the early hours. Jess had recently spoken to Turgeon about the frauds, and after the conversation, Turgeon told one follower that "God's calling us to destroy the enemy," according to court papers. Then Applin said God told him to shoot Jess, charging papers said.

Prosecutors say that after the shooting, Applin jumped into a getaway car driven by Turgeon.

Applin, too, is offering an insanity defense, Ferguson said.

"They're not denying they killed the guy," he said. (Applin is being represented by another attorney.)

Ferguson said his client will testify, probably next week. The trial, which started this week, is expected to last up to three weeks.

"He's saying he's not (insane)," he said. "We're saying he is."

Turgeon sang the national anthem in San Diego County Superior Court last year when he was sentenced to 89 years to life for attempting to kill a police officer and committing a string of robberies in California. He and Applin, who was also convicted in the crime spree, were arrested three months after Jess' killing, after the robbery of a San Diego lingerie store.

Six years earlier, after a rash of arsons in the Seattle-Everett area, Turgeon made local headlines when he claimed God told him to warn churches that the fires were a sign from God, telling them to repent. Paul Keller of Lynnwood was later arrested and convicted of the arsons.