Point Reyes Light - March 17, 2005
Helzer brothers sentenced to death
By Peter Jamison
Two brothers responsible for a gruesome spate of slayings in West
Marin were officially sentenced to death on Friday by a superior court
judge in Contra Costa County. But despite the death sentences, which
were welcomed by many of those close to the victims, it may be years
before the convicted killers are executed.
Glenn and Justin Helzer, along with their housemate, Dawn Godman,
killed Selina Bishop of Woodacre, her mother Jennifer Villarin of
Novato =E2=80=93 a popular bartender at the Papermill Creek Saloon in Fores=
Knolls =E2=80=93 and Villarin's friend James Gamble of Novato during the
summer of 2000.
Godman was sentenced to thirty-eight years to life in prison in
exchange for cooperating with prosecutors.
Selina had been duped by the Helzers into helping them launder
$100,000 of extorted money through her bank account. The Helzers had
murdered the extortion victims, Ivan and Annette Stineman of Concord,
who had been clients of Glenn Helzer's when he worked as an investment
All five victims were murdered to cover the Helzers' tracks as they
pursued a bizarre plot the brothers believed would hasten the return
The trio, who dubbed themselves the "Children of Thunder," planned to
use the money to finance what Glenn Helzer called the "War on Satan,"
his plan to assassinate the leaders of the Mormon church and proclaim
himself the church's head.
But the Helzers' plans were derailed when the body parts of several of
their victims were discovered in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River
Delta. The brothers, with Godman, had dismembered the victims and
tossed their remains into the delta.
Glenn Helzer, who received five death sentences on Friday, pled guilty
after his arrest. His brother, Justin, entered an insanity plea, but
was found guilty by a jury who recommended that he be put to death
"All these murders committed by the defendant were calmly and
gruesomely committed," Judge Mary O'Malley was reported to have said
when she delivered Glenn Helzer's sentence.
Public defender Dan Cook, Justin Helzer's attorney, said the verdict
did not come as a surprise to his client, who "didn't show any
particular reaction." Cook said that after his sentence was delivered,
Justin Helzer read a brief, cryptic statement he had prepared saying
that he hoped there would one day be peace and harmony in the world.
"The meaning wasn't immediately clear," Cook said of the statement.
The news of the Helzers' death sentences came as a relief to many who
were close to the victims.
"I'm just glad it's over, and sorry everyone had to go through what
they went through," said Dave Wilson of Forest Knolls, who worked with
Villarin at the Papermill Creek Saloon and whose mother owns the bar.
Wilson expressed his ongoing dismay at the slow trial process.
"They should have executed them an hour after they found them guilty," he s=
Those who felt vindicated by Friday's verdict may find more
frustration in the fact that the Helzers probably have a long time to
wait before their executions. Under California state law, any case in
which the convicted is sentenced to death is automatically appealed.
Moreover, before the appeal process can begin, convicts must wait for
a public attorney to be assigned to them. Such openings, explained
Cook, can take years.
"They're going to have to get in line," Cook said, noting that
competent public defenders willing to take on appeal cases for
prisoners condemned to death are usually in short order. "We're
talking years [before the Helzers are assigned public attorneys].
First, the trial record has to be verified. In a case like this, that
could take a fair amount of time."
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