Man who killed 5 dies by injection
At his trial, the cult leader referred to the killings as 'pruning the vineyard.'
LUCASVILLE, Ohio (AP) -- Ohio executed one of its most notorious criminals Tuesday, a religious cult leader who killed a family of five followers who were taken one at a time to a barn, bound and shot.
Jeffrey Lundgren, who died by injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, did not think the family was enthusiastic enough about following his teachings.
"I profess my love for God, my family, for my children, for Kathy [his wife]. I am because you are," Lundgren, 56, said in his final statement. He married Kathryn Johnson after the killings.
He was convicted of murdering the Avery family: Dennis, 49; Cheryl, 46; and their daughters, Trina, 15; Rebecca, 13; and 7-year-old Karen. No one on Ohio's death row has killed more.
The evidence against him showed that Lundgren was upset by what he thought was the Avery family's lack of faith and arranged a dinner hosted by cult members in 1989 in the Northeast Ohio city of Kirtland. Afterward, he and his followers led the Averys one by one -- Dennis first, Karen last -- to their deaths in a pit in a barn.
Lundgren shot each victim two or three times. A chain saw was used to muffle the gunfire while remaining Avery family members cleaned up after dinner.
Donald Bailey, the brother of Cheryl Avery, watched the execution and rose when Lundgren was brought into the death chamber. But Lundgren did not look through the window to the witness area.
"I wanted him to know I was there," Bailey said after the execution, also attended by Kent Clisby, another brother.
No one witnessed the execution for Lundgren, who was still as the lethal drugs were administered, only closing his eyes.
Lundgren told a jury in 1990 that he was a prophet of God and therefore not worthy of the death penalty.
"It's not a figment of my imagination that I can in fact talk to God, that I can hear his voice," he told the jurors. "I am a prophet of God. I am even more than a prophet."
Lundgren formed the cult with about 20 members after he was dismissed in 1987 as a lay minister of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, an offshoot of the main Mormon church.
Lundgren said God commanded him, through interpretation of Scriptures, to kill the Averys, who moved from Missouri in 1987 to follow his teachings.
Some cult members moved into a rented farmhouse with Lundgren, calling him dad, sharing their paychecks and attending his classes.
The upshot of his teaching: Jesus would return to earth only when the Kirtland Temple he had been dismissed from was recaptured.
He told the jury the spiritually unclean had to be dealt with and referred to the killings as "pruning the vineyard."
Lundgren was careful to make sure no one would be looking for the Averys. Before the murders, he directed Cheryl Avery to write to her family and inform them that they were moving to Wyoming and would provide contact information when they got settled.
The case was cracked eight months later when a dissident cult member, upset that his wife had been selected to become Lundgren's second wife, tipped off authorities. The bodies were found in January 1990.
Thirteen cult members were charged in the case, including Lundgren's ex-wife, Alice, now 55, and their son, Damon, now 35, both serving life prison terms.
Late Monday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati issued an order allowing the execution to go forward, overturning a lower court ruling that would have delayed the sentence to allow Lundgren to join a lawsuit challenging Ohio's use of lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment.
Lundgren argued his execution had more of a chance of being painful because he was diabetic and overweight at 275 pounds. The U.S. Supreme Court refused a last-minute request to stop his execution, and Gov. Bob Taft denied clemency.
U.S. Rep. Steven LaTourette, who prosecuted the case and witnessed the execution, said he didn't take any pleasure in seeing Lundgren die. He said he can't get the scene of the murder out of his mind and that he had hoped there would be no children as the bodies were being unburied.
"Those of us who were in the barn remembered it was the parents first, then the children," he said.
Three other Ohio death row inmates have killed five people each. In 1975, James Ruppert gunned down 11 family members and is serving a life sentence. Ohio had no death penalty when he was convicted of two of the murders and was found innocent by reason of insanity of the rest.