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No Charges Filed in Murders of Former U.S. Cult Followers

AP, via SFGate.com, USA
Dec. 8, 2005
Michelle Locke, Associated Press Writer
www.sfgate.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Friday December 9, 2005

No charges filed against son in 1980 murders

Berkeley, Calif. (AP) — Prosecutors have decided not to charge a man jailed this week in the 25-year-old murders of his parents, both prominent Peoples Temple defectors.

Edward Michael Mills, 43, had been arrested last Saturday as he arrived at the San Francisco International Airport from Japan, where he had been living.

However, prosecutor Chris Carpenter said Thursday that charges will not be filed. “Based on all of the evidence, we didn’t feel it was sufficient to meet the standard,” he said.

Mills’ arrest came in the 1980 killings of his parents and sister, murders that at the time spurred fears that death squads were finishing the job started by cult leader Jim Jones in the Guyana jungle.

Police said they don’t believe the murders, committed when Mills was 17, were related to the Peoples Temple, the organization founded by Jones that ended in November 1978 when he ordered more than 900 of his followers to drink poisoned punch at Jonestown, their Guyana compound.

“At this stage it does not appear that there was any motive associated with the Peoples Temple,” said Berkeley Police spokesman Joseph Okies.

Al and Jeannie Mills had been staunch members of Peoples Temple, joining in 1969 when Jones was packing in crowds as he preached interracial harmony and advocated helping the poor and sick.

But the couple left in 1975 after their daughter was beaten more than 70 times with a paddle because according to old news accounts she embraced a friend Jones deemed a traitor. The Mills formed a group, The Human Freedom Center, to assist other defectors and Jeannie Mills wrote a book, “Six Years with God,” about her experiences.

In 1978, as questions about Temple activities intensified, Jones retreated to Guyana. Later that year, Rep. Leo Ryan led a delegation of journalists and relatives of temple members to Jonestown. Some members chose to leave with him and the party was ambushed at the airstrip; Ryan and four others were killed. Ryan’s aide, Jackie Speier, now a state senator, was shot several times but survived.

Back at the compound, Jones ordered his followers to die, starting with the babies.

The Mills, who had changed their names they were Elmer and Deanna Mertle when they joined the Temple were afraid of retaliation and at one point had sought police protection.

On Feb. 26, 1980, Al Mills, 51, Jeannie, 40, and their daughter, Daphene, 15, were found shot in the head at their home in Berkeley. Jeannie Mills’ mother discovered the bodies.

According to news accounts from the time, Edward Mills told police he had been watching television and didn’t hear the shootings. Okies said Edward Mills had gunpowder residue on his hands but there wasn’t enough evidence to make an arrest.

Mills later received $247,000 from his parents’ estate, according to news stories from the time.

For years, the case lay dormant.

But two years ago, Berkeley police reopened the investigation as part of an ongoing effort to look at evidence in unsolved cases using new methods and technology.

This was the third time in 18 months Berkeley police made an arrest in a high-profile cold case that did not result in charges.

In May 2004, a man was arrested in the 1970 killing of a Berkeley police officer and then released soon after. In August of this year, the same man was again arrested in the officer’s death along with a retired school teacher. Both men were released without being charged.

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