Loved ones relate how person on trial now is not the same one they knew
MARTINEZ — Relatives of convicted murderer Justin Helzer said on Monday they were shocked when they first learned of Helzer’s role in the slaying of five people in the summer of 2000.
Supporting what has been a key defense argument that Helzer, 32, was swayed into killing by his domineering older brother, Glenn, 34, Helzer’s cousin and younger sister testified Justin was overwhelmed by his brother’s presence and theology.
Yes. In Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves I write about some of my cases involving this form of personal control. Sometimes, it can be an authoritarian family system. Sometimes it can be husband, wife, “friend” or relative. Many times it can be someone in some other position of authority. Battered-wife syndrome and prostitutes controlled by an abusive pimp also fit this category. These situations are sometimes far more destructive than involvement in a larger group because all of the energy of the abusive authority figure is concentrated on the victim.
– Source: Steve Hassan’s Freedom of Mind Center
Glenn Helzer was a “master manipulator” who naturally attracted people, said sister Heather Helzer, who now resides in Utah. He was a natural-born leader who craved to have others follow him.
“Justin fed (Glenn’s) ego,” Heather Helzer said. “In his own strange way, (Glenn) needed Justin.”
Struggling to keep her composure on the stand, Heather Helzer said Glenn Helzer’s attitude changed in the mid- to late-’90s when he grew disillusioned with the Mormon Church.
“It was really shocking. He was ready to experiment with drugs,” she said. “The religion he grew up with … he was ready to move beyond that.”
With the change in Glenn Helzer came the change in Justin, said Heather Helzer, who said Justin had always been a loving brother.
Together, the brothers embarked on a deluded scheme to rid the world of Satan and ready humanity for Christ’s return, the defense has argued. In a botched attempt to finance this vision, five people wound up dead.
On June 16, Justin Helzer was convicted on multiple counts of first-degree murder in the slayings 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 Laytonville.
When she first learned of Helzer’s participation in the killings, Heather Helzer said she refused to believe it.
“There’s just no way. I’d bet my life Justin had nothing to do with murder,” she said. “I was very surprised … it’s just gotten worse, far worse.”
Helzer covered his face with his hands and wept as his sister spoke of her conflicted emotions toward him.
“It’s hard to explain I guess,” she said. “I am … when I think of Justin, I feel awful about how much I love him. I love him very much.”
Likewise, Helzer’s cousin, Charney Hoffmann, 30, of Palo Alto said Helzer was consumed by his brother’s personality.
“Moments with (Glenn) were moments of clarity,” Hoffmann said. “And, I think, moments of truth.”
Justin Helzer lived in the constant shadow of his older brother, Hoffmann said.
“I think Justin loved his brother as much as anybody knows how to love,” he said.
“… I believe if (Glenn) had told Justin to give his own life for some greater cause that (Glenn) happened to describe, Justin would have felt it an honor to do it.”
Under questioning from defense attorney Dan Cook, Glenn Helzer’s ex-wife, Ann, said Justin Helzer’s involvement in the murders is “mind-boggling.”
“Justin truly does have a heart of gold,” she said. “Had he not had the interaction with (Glenn), this would not have happened in a million years.”
Earlier this month, the jury ruled Justin Helzer was legally sane at the time of the killings. It will soon fall to jurors to decide whether Helzer is put to death or spends the rest of his life in prison.
In a direct plea to the jury, Ann Helzer asked that her former brother-in-law not be executed.
“From knowing Justin, I would ask you to spare his life,” she said. “He could do a lot of good — even if you don’t see it now.”
Closing arguments in the penalty phase of Helzer’s capital murder trial are scheduled to get underway Wednesday in Contra Costa County Superior Court.