PORTLAND, Ore. — Two followers of a guru who founded a lavish commune in a remote desert town were convicted Friday of conspiring to murder a federal prosecutor investigating their sect.
Sally-Anne Croft and Susan Hagan face a sentence of up to life in prison for plotting to kill Charles Turner when he was Oregon's U.S. attorney. Turner, who was never attacked, was investigating allegations that followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh were conducting sham marriages to circumvent immigration law.
Defense lawyers called only one witness, a former commune leader who contradicted prosecution testimony. They based their case on intense cross-examination in an attempt to show that the five key prosecution witnesses, who had lied in the past, were willing to lie again. The five testified after making a deal with the government.
Physical evidence included a stockpile of rust-covered guns recovered from a drained lake bed.
Croft, who was in charge of the commune's money, was accused of authorizing the purchase of guns to kill Turner. She was accused along with Hagan, who headed the heavy-equipment department, of attending meetings where the conspiracy was hatched.
U.S. District Judge Malcolm Marsh allowed Croft and Hagan to remain free pending their Oct. 16 sentencing.
Hagan's lawyer, Steven Wax, said the verdict would be appealed.
Croft and Hagan were implicated in 1990, but fought extradition from Britain for four years.
After Rajneesh moved his followers from India to the Big Muddy Ranch in north-central Oregon in 1981, Croft and Hagan became major players in the development of a commune that included an airport, shopping malls, a hotel, a large meditation hall and the guru's fleet of Rolls-Royces. Four thousand red-garbed followers worked seven-day weeks in a tightly controlled environment.
The women were tried in the same courthouse where Rajneesh pleaded guilty to immigration fraud before leaving the country in 1985. He died in India in 1990, and his followers contend he was poisoned by the U.S. government.
Three of seven Rajneeshees indicted in the conspiracy case remain at large overseas. Among them is the guru's personal secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, the alleged mastermind of the plot.