Ex-commune member Rebekah Johnson cleared in shooting; guru fears for life

The hippie-dippy groupie got off scot-free Monday – and now the commune guru she was accused of shooting is afraid for his life.

A disgruntled former Staten Island commune member was cleared of all charges in the shooting of the group’s founder, who had insisted in court that she was his attacker.

Still, the jury took less than five hours to find Rebekah Johnson not guilty of pumping six bullets into Ganas commune guru Jeff Gross as he walked home two years ago.

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“I had a great lawyer,” said a beaming Johnson, 45, after she was released. “I just want to spend time with my family.”

Johnson’s mother, Margaret Johnson, painted Gross, 53, as a heartless Svengali who took advantage of her daughter and tried to railroad an innocent woman.

“The jury said it all,” the mom said. “The one that is guilty is Jeff [Gross]. He killed her mentally, physically and psychologically.”

Gross, founder of the Ganas commune in New Brighton, was stunned by the verdict, which he called “unbelievable.”

“Am I afraid for my life? Of course I am,” Gross told the Daily News last night.

“She stalked and harassed me for two years and then she pumped six bullets into me that were copper-jacketed bullets, which are especially deadly.”

Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan said he “respected” the verdict, but also sounded taken aback by the jury’s swift decision. “We presented a clear and compelling case which satisfied each element of the crimes,” he said.

Johnson was acquitted of attempted murder and weapons counts. She was also cleared of trying to extort $1 million from the commune after the shooting. Gross was ambushed outside the commune’s compound as he returned home from the movies May 29, 2006.

Gross fingered Johnson as the crooked-toothed wacko with a .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun. Cops spent a year hunting for Johnson before they nabbed her at a Philadelphia train station June 18, 2007.

There was no physical evidence tying her to the crime. Cops seized an AK-47 and 1,000 rounds of ammo from Johnson’s flat, but prosecutors were barred from using the evidence at trial and the jury never knew about the arsenal.

Gross alleged Johnson had stalked him for years, seeking revenge for being booted from the commune. She sued but the case was dismissed.

“[The jury] obviously didn’t listen to the instructions of the judge, who said make your decision based on evidence and the law,” he said. “It’s nothing less than prejudice. They bought the story about the cult, about the innuendos that have nothing to do with the evidence.”

Defense lawyer Stanford Bandelli countered that Johnson was wrongfully accused by Gross as payback for portraying him a brainwashing rapist and the commune as a kinky cult. In court, he argued that it was too dark the night of the attack for Gross to see who shot him.

Gross said he clearly saw Johnson from several angles: “As I was laying in a pool of my own blood, she had to jump over me to escape.”

– Source: Ex-commune member Rebekah Johnson cleared in shooting; guru fears for life, Edgar Sandoval and Bill Hutchinson, New York Daily News, Aug. 6, 2008 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday August 4, 2008.
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