Cult leader now pleads insanity in 1998 murder of Terrace man

Herald staff

The leader of a small religious cult accused of first-degree murder in the 1998 death of a Mountlake Terrace man changed his plea Wednesday to innocent by reason of insanity.

Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris also signed an order sending Christopher Turgeon, 36, to Western State Hospital at Steilacoom for a 15-day psychiatric evaluation.

The order asks experts for a diagnosis of Turgeon’s mental condition and whether he suffers from a mental defect.

He and Blaine Alan Applin, 29, were returned to Snohomish County from California to face trial in the death of Dan Jess, 40, a former member of Turgeon’s Gatekeepers cult.

The organization had been based in Edmonds, Lynnwood, Everett and Lake Stevens before it moved to Southern California in 1997.

In California, the two were convicted of embarking on a crime spree that was supposed to have hastened the apocalyptic downfall of the United States. They were convicted of 17 felonies, including conspiracy to murder a police officer.

Applin received a 101-year sentence and Turgeon got 89 years to life.

In a July court appearance in Snohomish County, Turgeon snapped a sharp, military-style salute before entering his original plea of innocent.

Jess, a former sect member, was gunned down at his home in March 1998. Prosecutors allege that Turgeon ordered Applin to kill Jess because he feared the Mountlake Terrace man was going to betray the Gatekeepers.

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