Cult case – Catherine Jane Stork receives five years in a plot to murder a federal prosecutor
Citing his duty to mete out both justice and mercy, a federal judge Monday sentenced a former member of the Rajneeshee commune to five years’ probation for her role in an aborted 1985 plot to kill the top federal prosecutor in Oregon.
“I’m convinced this defendant has seen the error of her ways,” said U.S. District Judge Malcolm Marsh, who has presided over Rajneeshee criminal trials for the past 19 years.
Catherine Jane Stork, 60, described by prosecutors as a former top lieutenant in the Central Oregon commune, pleaded guilty last fall to conspiring to murder Charles Turner, the former U.S. Attorney in Oregon, and the unlawful purchase and transportation of a firearm. Stork faced life in prison.
A native of Australia, Stork voluntarily returned to Portland from her home in Germany to face the 15-year-old federal charges so that she could be free to travel to Australia to visit her dying son.
She had not left Germany since 1991, when a regional court there denied the United States’ request to have her extradited.
Stork is the last of seven cult members indicted in the murder conspiracy. The others were sentenced to prison for two to five years.
Marsh said “breaking the circle of hate” involved more than justice. He credited Stork for time she was incarcerated in Germany on the conspiracy charge and gave her five years’ probation on the weapon count. He ordered her to perform 1,000 hours of community service.
Marsh’s ruling followed a tearful address by Stork in which she apologized to Turner, the people of Oregon, and her parents and children.
Stork recalled the journey she and her former husband and two children took to the cult known as Rajneeshpuram, which operated in Central Oregon from 1981 to 1985. She described her family’s saga as a “descent into hell” that prompted her to abandon her children to the commune.
Turner, who’d written a letter to the court explaining he would not object to probation for Stork, said Monday he was relieved his ordeal was finally over.
“Nobody got more than five years. This wasn’t an important case to somebody. I can read the tea leaves,” he said from his home in Washington state. “I don’t want to be bothered with this anymore.”