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Execution Set for Cult Leader Who Killed Family

August 25, 2006|From the Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A religious cult leader convicted of killing a family of five in 1989, which he referred to as "pruning the vineyard," will be executed on Oct. 10, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Jeffrey Lundgren, 56, was convicted of shooting to death a man, his wife and his three daughters who had moved from Missouri in 1987 to follow Lundgren's teachings.

Lundgren formed a religious cult after he was dismissed in 1987 as a lay minister of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He had attracted a following, and several people moved with him to a rented farmhouse about 30 miles east of Cleveland, where they called him "Dad" and contributed money.

The victims were Dennis Avery, 49; his wife, Cheryl, 46; and daughters Trina, 15, Rebecca, 13, and Karen, 7.

On April 17, 1989, the Avery family was invited to dinner, then led to a barn. There they were bound and placed into a pit, where Lundgren shot each one.

Kirtland police found Dennis Avery's body Jan. 3, 1990, leading to Lundgren's arrest days later in California. A jury convicted him of five counts of aggravated murder and five counts of kidnapping.

In an unsworn statement at his 1990 trial, Lundgren told the jury that he and his cult were preparing for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Lundgren said messages from the Bible told him to kill the Averys. Cult members had testified that although the Averys were members of the sect, Lundgren considered them less enthusiastic.

Lundgren, his wife and son were among 13 cult members arrested in the case. Some pleaded guilty to reduced charges. Alice Lundgren was sentenced to five terms of life in prison for conspiracy, complicity and kidnapping. Damon Lundgren was sentenced to life in prison for murder and kidnapping.

Jeffrey Lundgren has exhausted all his appeals, said Bob Beasley, spokesman for Ohio Atty. Gen. Jim Petro.

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