Jeffrey Lundgren: Is he a new man?

Kirtland cult leader Jeffrey D. Lundgren is claiming he is a changed man and does not deserve to die for brutally killing a family of five.

Lundgren, 56, is scheduled to be executed Oct. 24 – more than 16 years after a Lake County jury found him guilty of five counts of aggravated murder and five counts of kidnapping.

Lundgren met privately last week with an Ohio Parole Board member to argue his case.

On Tuesday, his Cleveland-based attorney, Jim Jenkins, will ask a nine-member board in Columbus to show him mercy during a clemency hearing.

“In essence, we want to express remorse,” said Jenkins. “Certainly, hindsight is 20/20. He’s always been a religious man, but Jeffrey is now cognizant of his erroneous Scripture interpretations. He’s not the same person you keep seeing on the news – a long-haired, defiant man justifying his actions through Scripture.”

On April 17, 1989, Lundgren’s victims, who moved from Missouri in 1987 to follow his teachings, were invited to dinner at his farm on Route 6 in Kirtland.

Dennis Avery, 49; his wife, Cheryl, 46; and their daughters, Trina, 15, Rebecca, 13 and Karen, 7, were then led to the barn, where they were bound, forced into a pit, shot and buried.

Lundgren told the jury he and his no-name cult were preparing for the second coming of Jesus Christ and that the Bible told him to kill the Averys for being sinners.

Yet Lundgren – now known at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction as Inmate No. 235-069 – might not have been convicted if the jury had known the full story, said his attorney.

Jenkins claims the cult leader had a severe mental defect that was not addressed at trial simply because he could not afford to pay for a proper mental health evaluation.

“It’s a basic tenet of capital punishment that those without the capital get the punishment,” he said, adding, “The execution of Jeffrey Lundgren is wrong. He’s not the Jeffrey Lundgren of yore.”

But Chief Assistant Lake County Prosecutor Karen Kowall disagreed.

“Our position is that this was a very significant event in Lake County history,” she said. “In our view, the death penalty is appropriate.”

Kowall and a representative from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office are expected to attend the hearing.

Other possible speakers could include some of the victims’ surviving family members and representatives of Lundgren’s former church.

Lundgren is not likely to be at Tuesday’s hearing.

The Parole Board is expected to make a decision on Lundgren’s clemency request the night of the hearing.

But the final say will come from Gov. Bob Taft, who could decide to commute Lundgren’s sentence to life in prison.

Kowall said she was not sure how long Taft may take to rule on the clemency request, or whether it could delay the execution.

Jenkins also has asked the U.S. District Court for Southern Ohio to bring Lundgren into an ongoing Ohio lethal-injection case that challenges the state’s use of a three-drug lethal injection.

The case, Cooey v. Taft, was filed in 2004 by death row inmate Richard Cooey.

The suit claims lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment, citing a Florida study that found that in 43 of 49 investigated cases, condemned prisoners did not receive enough sodium thiopental to induce a “quick and effective state of unconsciousness.”

In other words, they were awake when executed.

Lundgren is now an obese diabetic with high blood pressure, which could make lethal injection more difficult, his lawyer said.

Lundgren started his cult after he was dismissed as a senior guide at the Kirtland Temple managed by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

His wife, Alice, 55, is serving five life terms in prison for her role in the killings.

The couple were among 13 cult members arrested in the case.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The News-Herald, USA
Sep. 24, 2006
Tracey Read

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This post was last updated: Dec. 31, 2014