Two brothers responsible for a gruesome spate of slayings in West Marin were officially sentenced to death on Friday by a superior court judge in Contra Costa County. But despite the death sentences, which were welcomed by many of those close to the victims, it may be years before the convicted killers are executed.
Glenn and Justin Helzer, along with their housemate, Dawn Godman, killed Selina Bishop of Woodacre, her mother Jennifer Villarin of Novato – a popular bartender at the Papermill Creek Saloon in Forest Knolls – and Villarin’s friend James Gamble of Novato during the summer of 2000.
Godman was sentenced to thirty-eight years to life in prison in exchange for cooperating with prosecutors.
Selina had been duped by the Helzers into helping them launder $100,000 of extorted money through her bank account. The Helzers had murdered the extortion victims, Ivan and Annette Stineman of Concord, who had been clients of Glenn Helzer’s when he worked as an investment banker.
All five victims were murdered to cover the Helzers’ tracks as they pursued a bizarre plot the brothers believed would hasten the return of Christ.
The trio, who dubbed themselves the “Children of Thunder,” planned to use the money to finance what Glenn Helzer called the “War on Satan,” his plan to assassinate the leaders of the Mormon church and proclaim himself the church’s head.
But the Helzers’ plans were derailed when the body parts of several of their victims were discovered in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The brothers, with Godman, had dismembered the victims and tossed their remains into the delta.
Glenn Helzer, who received five death sentences on Friday, pled guilty after his arrest. His brother, Justin, entered an insanity plea, but was found guilty by a jury who recommended that he be put to death last June.
“All these murders committed by the defendant were calmly and gruesomely committed,” Judge Mary O’Malley was reported to have said when she delivered Glenn Helzer’s sentence.
Public defender Dan Cook, Justin Helzer’s attorney, said the verdict did not come as a surprise to his client, who “didn’t show any particular reaction.” Cook said that after his sentence was delivered, Justin Helzer read a brief, cryptic statement he had prepared saying that he hoped there would one day be peace and harmony in the world.
Those who felt vindicated by Friday’s verdict may find more frustration in the fact that the Helzers probably have a long time to wait before their executions. Under California state law, any case in which the convicted is sentenced to death is automatically appealed. Moreover, before the appeal process can begin, convicts must wait for a public attorney to be assigned to them. Such openings, explained Cook, can take years.