A federal appeals court has upheld the multiple convictions of three religious cult followers who assassinated three former members of their polygamist cult, and then killed a child who witnessed one of the murders.
Douglas Barlow, William Heber LeBaron and Patricia LeBaron were convicted in January 1993 in the 1988 assassination-style shooting deaths of Mark Chynoweth, Edward Marston, Duane Chy-no-weth and Duane Chy-no-weth's 8-year-old daughter, Jenny, in Texas.At the time of the murder, the defendants were all members of a Houston-based religious sect called the Church of the Lamb of God, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in reviewing the case.
Patricia and William were children of Ervil LeBaron and Barlow was his stepson. Ervil LeBaron died in 1981 while imprisoned in Utah for masterminding the slaying of another polygamous leader, Rulon Allred, a naturopath shot to death in his office in Murray on May 10, 1977.
Cult leaders had ordered Barlow and the LeBarons to execute Mark and Duane Chynoweth and Marston. The victims had recently left the church and had been called "unredeemable," Judges Rey-nal-do Garza, Jacques L. Wiener, Jr. and Emilio M. Garza said in their review of the case.
According to the church's beliefs, the leader of the cult, known as the Great Grand Patriarch, had the power to brand disobedient members unredeemable or "Sons of the Perdition," the three-judge panel said.
"Being marked unredeemable is tantamount to a death sentence, for the Church practices blood atonement, an archaic religious doctrine . . . to teach that unredeemable members can obtain eternal salvation only through the shedding of their own blood," the judges said.
When the cult leader orders an unredeemable member to die, the other followers are required to carry it out, they said.
That's what happened in May 1988 when the patriarch denounced Mark and Duane Chynoweth and Marston "as Sons of the Perdition because the three had chosen to disassociate themselves from the church," the ruling said.
William LeBaron then orchestrated plans to murder the three men - the Chynoweths in Houston and Marston in Dallas.
According to the plans, each man would be shot while at work. William LeBaron shot Mark Chynoweth and Barlow shot Marston. At the same time, Patricia LeBaron and another cult follower killed Duane Chynoweth and his daughter, Jenny, who witnessed the murder.
Four days after the murders, the LeBarons and Barlow were arrested at a Phoenix, Ariz., motel for stealing a car. After they were apprehended, police searched their motel rooms and found newspaper articles about the murders, disguises and several loaded weapons.
The three were then charged in a federal indictment with 14 counts, including murder for hire, witness tampering, illegal use of a firearm in a violent crime and obstruction of free exercise of religion.
In addition, Patricia LeBaron confessed the killings while in police custody, the judges said.