By SCOTT NORTH
The leader of a small religious cult that forecast an apocalyptic end to the United States pleaded innocent Tuesday to first-degree murder in the March 1998 shooting death of a Mountlake Terrace man.
Christopher Turgeon, 36, snapped a sharp, military-style salute before he entered the plea during a brief hearing in Snohomish County Superior Court.
Turgeon is the leader of the Gatekeepers cult, which had been based in Edmonds, Lynnwood, Everett and Lake Stevens before moving to Southern California in 1997.
It was while in California that Turgeon and fellow Gatekeepers member Blaine Alan Applin, 29, embarked on a crime spree that was supposed to hasten the apocalyptic downfall of the United States. The pair were convicted in California of 17 felonies, including conspiracy to murder a police officer. Applin received a minimum 101-year sentence. Turgeon got 89 years to life. He sang the national anthem at sentencing.
The pair were returned to Snohomish County to face trial in the death of Dan Jess, 40, of Mountlake Terrace, a former Gatekeepers member who was gunned down at his home.
Prosecutors allege that Turgeon ordered Applin to kill Jess because he feared the man was going to betray the Gatekeepers, a group that he had previously called Ahabah Asah Prophetic Ministries.
At his California trial, Turgeon testified that he considers himself the prophet Elijah. He preached that under God’s law, women were inferior to men and that a man must not submit to the authority of a woman. Turgeon took the idea so far that he once refused to give a woman 911 emergency operator his name, informing her he was "not at peace" to do so, according to court documents.
Applin recently convinced a judge to appoint a new lawyer for him because he had religious objections to being represented by a woman public defender.
Turgeon is represented by Royce Ferguson of Everett. Ferguson said he has had little time to discuss strategy with his client, except to assert Tuesday’s innocent plea.
Turgeon’s trial is scheduled for September, and Applin is facing trial in October.
Deputy prosecutor David Kurtz said no decision has been made whether to attempt trying the pair together.
You can call Herald Writer Scott North at 425-339-3431or send e-mail to