Religious cult member convicted but viewed as victim of cult leader

Woman pleads no contest in case of decomposing body; both sides say she’s a victim

MAUSTON — A woman charged with helping to hide a corpse in her Necedah home is also a victim of the man who is charged with directing that failed resurrection, lawyers for both the prosecution and defense said Monday.

“We do regard (Tammy Lewis), at least in part, as a victim of this cult activity,” said Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth.

Southworth’s comment followed a plea and sentencing hearing in Juneau County Circuit Court in which Lewis entered into a deferred prosecution agreement for five of the six charges against her.

Lewis, 36, remains charged with two counts of causing mental harm to a child and one count of hiding a corpse, all felonies. She also remains charged with two counts of misdemeanor theft, both charges related to money taken from the dead woman’s bank accounts. Lewis pleaded no contest and was found guilty on Monday to one count of obstructing a police officer.

Alan Bushey, 58, of Necedah, the leader of Lewis’ church, is accused of telling Lewis to house the body of Alvina Middlesworth, in Lewis’ Shrine Road home, and claimed that the body could be returned to life by belief and prayer.

Under terms of Lewis’ two-year agreement, she could avoid prosecution for the five charges remaining against her if she cooperates with authorities in the prosecution of Bushey.

Lewis kept the dead 90-year-old woman’s body for about two months propped up on a toilet in the only bathroom of the home she shared with her two children, who were allegedly told it was their fault Middlesworth did not return to life.

Bushey was the “ringleader” and “cult leader” who bears chief responsibility for the illegal acts, Southworth said.

“She (Lewis) was a victim in this matter also,” said Daniel Berkos, Lewis’ lawyer.

– Source: Woman pleads no contest in case of decomposing body; both sides say she’s a victim, Peter Rebhahn, Juneau County Star-Times via the Wisconsin State Journal, Nov. 17, 2008 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Woman Convicted in Toilet Corpse Case

MAUSTON, Wis. (AP) — A woman accused of helping her religious leader hide a decaying corpse on her toilet so they could continue collecting her Social Security was convicted of a misdemeanor in a deal for her to testify against the leader, a prosecutor said Monday.

Tammy Lewis, 36, of Necedah, pleaded no contest to obstructing a police officer and fined $350 in a plea bargain that defers prosecution of more serious charges. Juneau County Circuit John Roemer ordered her to pay the fine within 60 days or serve a seven-day jail sentence.

Lewis and Alan Bushey, 58, were accused of hiding 90-year-old Magdeline Alvina Middlesworth’s body on a toilet in Lewis’ home after she died in March. Investigators said Middlesworth and Lewis were members of a religious sect Bushey led called the Order of the Divine Will.

Bushey told Lewis that God would revive Middlesworth, who friends and family said was from Washington state, investigators said.

Lewis in May initially told a sheriff’s deputy that Middlesworth was on vacation.

The deputy later discovered the elderly woman’s rotting body in Lewis’ stench-filled home.

She also told authorities she was Middlesworth’s power of attorney, and the older woman used all of her money to support their six-member religious group. Investigators believe Middlesworth’s Social Security and annuity checks totaling nearly $3,000 were deposited after her death into a bank account she shared with Lewis.

As part of Lewis’ plea deal, five other charges, including three felony counts of hiding a corpse and causing mental harm to a child, will be dismissed in two years if she cooperates with prosecutors and follows other court orders involving her children, District Attorney Scott Southworth said.

“We view her as a victim as well of Alan Bushey,” Southworth said. “We also understand the power, the mental power, that Alan Bushey was exercising over her, the coercion he was exerting over her.”

A deferred prosecution agreement calls for Lewis to continue to receive mental health treatment and testify against Bushey in a trial set to begin in April, the prosecutor said.

She and her two children, now ages 12 and 15, will be witnesses in the trial, he said.

Lewis’ son told detectives Bushey told him demons were destroying Middlesworth’s appearance as she decayed in the bathroom to make it look like she wouldn’t rise from the dead, the criminal complaint said.

The attorney said he didn’t know whether Lewis believed that praying would bring Middlesworth back to life. But Bushey had convinced her to follow whatever he said to do, Berkos said.

– Source: Woman Convicted in Toilet Corpse Case, AP via WTMJ Newsrado 620 AM, Nov. 17, 2008 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

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This post was last updated: Nov. 18, 2008