LUCASVILLE, Ohio — Ohio executed a religious cult leader Tuesday for murdering a family of five followers who were taken one at a time to a barn, bound and shot to death. The youngest was a girl just 7 years old.
Jeffrey Lundgren, 56, died by injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. “I profess my love for God, my family, for my children, for Kathy (his wife). I am because you are,” Lundgren said in his final statement.
The evidence against him in the deaths of the Avery family _ Dennis, 49, Cheryl, 46, Trina, 15, Rebecca, 13, and 7-year-old Karen _ was compelling.
Upset by what he saw as a lack of faith, Lundgren arranged a dinner hosted by cult members. Afterward, he and his followers led the family members one by one _ the father first, young Karen last _ to their deaths while the others unknowingly cleaned up after dinner.
Lundgren shot each victim two or three times while a running chain saw muffled the sound of the gunfire.
Lundgren argued at his trial in 1990 that he was prophet of God and therefore not deserving of the death penalty.
“It’s not a figment of my imagination that I can in fact talk to God, that I can hear his voice,” he had told the jurors. “I am a prophet of God. I am even more than a prophet.”
Lundgren formed the cult with about 20 members in the northeast Ohio town of Kirtland after he was dismissed in 1987 as a lay minister of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, an offshoot of the Mormon church.
He said God commanded him, through interpretation of Scriptures, to kill the Avery family, who had moved from Missouri in 1987 to follow his teachings.
Lundgren’s attorneys had tried to put off the execution, arguing that he should be allowed to join a lawsuit challenging Ohio’s use of lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment. They said his execution had more of a chance of being painful because he was diabetic and overweight at 275 pounds.
Late Monday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati issued an order allowing the execution to go forward. The U.S. Supreme Court refused a last-minute request to stop his execution Tuesday, and Gov. Bob Taft denied clemency.
Thirteen cult members were charged in the case, including Lundgren’s wife, Alice, now 55, and their son, Damon, now 35, both serving life prison terms.