SAN DIEGO — A Superior Court judge Friday freed a Santa Cruz couple accused of kidnaping and falsely imprisoning their adult daughter in an attempt to "deprogram" her religious beliefs.
Judge David B. Moon Jr. dismissed all charges against Earle and Dorothy Brown, both 58. They had been charged with illegally abducting their daughter, Ginger, in an unsuccessful attempt to get her to disavow her allegiance to a group known as Great Among the Nations.
Moon also dismissed charges against another Brown daughter, Holly, 25, and two other co-defendants, deprogrammer Clifford Daniels, 35, of Los Angeles, and Hank Erler, 23, of Escondido for their roles in the case.
On Wednesday, Moon's jury had acquitted some of the defendants on lesser charges, but on Thursday jurors told Moon that they were hopelessly deadlocked on the kidnaping charges against the elder Browns, their daughter and the deprogrammer.
The San Diego County district attorney's office charged that Ginger Brown, 22 at the time, had been abducted from an Encinitas parking lot and held against her will. Ginger Brown was freed five days later, returned to her group and served as the prosecution's star witness against her own parents and the others.
The 17-member Coronado-based Great Among the Nations describes itself as a fundamental Christian Bible study and evangelism ministry. Parents of current and former members have called it a cult whose members are insidiously influenced to finance the comfortable life style of its leader, Benjamin Altschul.
The defendants had not denied their actions, but claimed that they were baited to kidnap Ginger Brown so she and her leader could sue them for monetary damages to finance their group.
On Friday--after Deputy Dist. Atty. Gary Rempel said he was ready to retry the defendants on the hung counts and to continue his prosecution of them on several yet untried charges of conspiracy--Moon ruled instead that further prosecution would be fruitless.
"Perhaps a jury might reach a unanimous not-guilty verdict," Moon said, "but this judge isn't going to let the people's courtroom, of which we have precious few, be used to titillate the public's fascination with unusual religious groups. We have other pressing business to transact in our trial courts."
Earle Brown said afterward that he is still "really concerned about Ginger and her well-being--and for other parents with children in this situation."
Ginger Brown, meanwhile, has filed a $2.5-million lawsuit against her parents and the others involved in the deprogramming attempt.