Ex-wife wants Helzer spared

Former spouse says execution would ‘devastate’ daughters

MARTINEZ — Sending confessed murderer Glenn Taylor Helzer to California’s death chamber would devastate his two young daughters, Helzer’s former wife testified Monday.

Ann Helzer was the final witness called by defense attorneys in a trial that explored issues of religious fanaticism and centered on a murderous plot to secure Christ’s return to earth.

Helzer said her ex-husband — whom she married in April 1993 — was a television junky who, prior to marriage, had lived a sheltered life.

“He knew a lot about church — and that had been most of his life,” she said. “But he did not have a realistic view of people.”

When the couple first started dating, Glenn Helzer, 34, of Concord was a devout Mormon who had returned the year before from a two-year mission to Brazil, Ann Helzer said. Through Glenn, Ann Helzer joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The couple had two daughters — the oldest of whom is 9, she said. But after three years of marriage, Glenn Helzer strayed from the principles of the Mormon church and was through being a husband.

“He wanted to expand his life outside the church,” she said. “He began feeling the confines of his religion and wanted to try the normal life.”

The “normal life” meant smoking, drinking and non-monogamous relationships, Ann Helzer said. Her husband also changed his appearance by opting to wear black clothing and showering less.

“Everything shifted,” she said. “Everything started going.” The couple separated in June 1996.

Discussing her former husband’s possible fate, Ann Helzer said she does not want Helzer put to death.

“It would be really catastrophic to my two girls,” she said. “This is their dad. They write to him. When they feel like they can’t talk to me, he’s the one they turn to. Already, this has been incredibly hard for them.”

Helzer said her oldest daughter is much like her father in terms of personality.

“Sierra has a hard time making decisions. She has a lot of anxiety and the grass is always greener (on the other side),” Helzer said. “She wears her heart on her sleeve. Her emotions are very roller-coaster.”

After leaving his wife, Glenn Helzer continued to change in appearance and personality, testified his younger sister, Heather Helzer, 30. Throughout the mid to late-1990s, he formulated his own opinions of the Mormon scriptures and argued with those who disagreed with his interpretations.

“He seemed so callous,” Heather Helzer said, looking at the jury. “It’s probably not so shocking to you, but it was shocking to see him smoke.”

Helzer faces a possible death sentence for the summer 2000 killings of Ivan Stineman, 85, and his wife, Annette, 78, both of Concord; Selina Bishop, 22, of Woodacre; her mother, Jennifer Villarin, 45, of Novato; and Villarin’s companion, James Gamble, 54, of Woodacre.

Selina Bishop is the daughter of blues guitarist Elvin Bishop.

In March, Helzer pleaded guilty to the crimes. A jury in August recommended a death sentence for Helzer’s younger brother, Justin, 32, in connection with the same crime.

The killings were part of a bizarre kidnap-extortion plot that Glenn Helzer said he believed would hasten the return of Jesus Christ.

On Monday, Heather Helzer said her older brother was always interested in subjects of religion and looked upon his maternal grandfather, Doyle Sorenson, as a spiritual leader.

Defense attorney Suzanne Chapot played an audio tape in court of Sorenson telling Helzer’s mother, Carma, of the time Christ paid him an early morning visit.

“I felt perfectly comfortable,” Sorenson said on the tape. “It was a surprise. I was shocked. I jumped out of my wits.”

The defense is arguing that Helzer’s murderous spree was the result of mental illness. On Monday, Heather Helzer said numerous aunts, uncles and cousins in the Helzer family have been diagnosed with mental disorders.

When she learned of her brothers’ involvement in the deaths of five people, Heather Helzer said she became overcome with shock.

“I felt sorry for the victims,” she said, sobbing to the point where she was nearly incoherent. “I can’t explain how awful we feel.”

Closing arguments in the case are scheduled to get under way today.

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