Jan 23, 2024

Ringleader in Marin, East Bay murders loses death-penalty appeal

Marin Independent Journal 
January 22, 2024
The California Supreme Court has affirmed the death penalty for a man convicted in a murder spree in Marin and Contra Costa counties.

The case centers on Glenn Taylor Helzer, a self-proclaimed prophet who led a small religious group that called itself “the Children of Thunder.” The former Concord resident pleaded guilty in 2005 for his involvement in the 2000 murders of five people, including two victims in Marin County, in order to cover up his extortion plot.

Helzer’s brother, Justin, was sentenced to death for participating in the killings after he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He hanged himself in his cell at San Quentin State Prison in 2013.

An associate of the Helzers, Dawn Godman, pleaded guilty for joining the plot and received 38 years to life in prison as part of a plea deal with prosecutors.

Godman believed that Glenn Taylor Helzer, who went by the name Taylor, was a prophet of God, the California Supreme Court said in its 85-page ruling, which was issued Monday.

“She gathered with (the) defendant and Justin to declare war on Satan by openly stating their intent to follow through with what they believed was God’s Will,” Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero wrote.

Taylor Helzer first plotted to steal money from Ivan and Annette Steinman, an elderly Concord couple who used to be his clients when he was a stockbroker. The Helzer brothers went on to murder the Steinmans at their home.

Taylor Helzer later fatally stabbed his 22-year-old girlfriend, Selina Bishop, daughter of blues guitarist Elvin Bishop, at his residence after using her to deposit money as part of his financial scheme, the ruling said.

Because of concerns he could be identified as Bishop’s killer, Taylor Helzer and his brother traveled to western Marin and murdered her mother, Jennifer Villarin, and her companion, James Gamble, at Villarin’s apartment in Woodacre.

Authorities found the dismembered remains of three victims in duffel bags and that had been dumped in the Mokelumne River in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Taylor Helzer’s automatic death penalty appeal began in 2008. His attorney, Jeanne Keevan-Lynch, argued that he did not receive a fair trial because of the conduct of investigators and the trial judge.

Keevan-Lynch claimed that Marin County sheriff’s detectives violated Helzer’s Fourth Amendment rights by seizing items not listed on their search warrant when they investigated his home.

“We reject defendant’s claims and conclude blanket suppression of the evidence is not warranted,” Guerrero wrote in the court opinion.

The court was also not persuaded by Keevan-Lynch’s argument that her client received an unfair trial because the trial judge excused a potential juror who was unsure if she could put her moral beliefs aside to possibly vote on the death penalty.

The justices also disagreed with the defendant’s claims that jurors were unfairly influenced by the prosecution displaying graphic photographs of the murder victims in the trial.

Guerrero noted that the pictures showed evidence that the killers tried to conceal the victims’ identities by removing their teeth and tattoos.

“Here, the disputed photographs shed light on the circumstances of the crimes, because, as the trial court reasoned, they were strong evidence of defendant’s consciousness of guilt, the seriousness of his crimes, and the manner of death and subsequent disposal of the victims’ bodies,” she wrote.

Keevan-Lynch declined to comment on the ruling on Monday.

Ted Asregadoo, a spokesperson for the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, said that although the Supreme Court affirmed the trial outcome, “it does not ease the profound grief endured by those who lost their loved ones.”

Marin County sheriff’s Sgt. Adam Schermerhorn said, “Mr. Helzer’s actions are irredeemable, and his sentence being upheld shows the commitment that our state’s criminal justice system has to the members of our communities.”

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