Letter could muddle King murder case

By Scott North

Herald Writer

The murder of a Mountlake Terrace mail-order bride and the case of a killer cult leader are now linked by a letter that could play a big role in a trial set to begin early next month.

Daniel K. Larson, 21, a convicted sex offender who has admitted strangling Anastasia King, in April wrote to self-proclaimed prophet Christopher Turgeon. Larson claimed he alone was responsible for the woman’s murder, which he insisted was ordered by God.

The letter contradicts Larson’s claim in an October plea agreement that he was "under threats of death and coercion" from his former landlord, Indle Gifford King, Jr. when he strangled the man’s wife with a necktie in September 2000.

Larson has repeatedly claimed the 270-pound Indle King not only ordered the killing, but held down his 20-year-old wife as she fought for her life.

King, 40, of Mountlake Terrace, has flatly denied any involvement.

His attorneys, David Allen and Cassandra Stamm, on Friday said the Larson letter should be very helpful to their client, who is scheduled to go to trial Jan. 7, charged with first-degree murder.

"It proves what we’ve said all along," Stamm said.

The letter became public during a pretrial hearing Friday before Snohomish County Superior Court Judge George Bowden.

Jim Townsend, the county’s chief criminal deputy prosecutor, said prosecutors only learned of the letter on Tuesday when they participated in an interview with Larson and defense attorneys.

Larson in October pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and promised to testify against King in exchange for a prison sentence as low as 14 years. Larson said he helped King kill his wife the night the couple returned from a visit to her parents’ home in Kyrgyzstan, in the former Soviet Union.

"To be perfectly candid with the court, the state would be in a much better position" if Larson had not been involved in the case, Townsend told the judge. But Larson has been a key witness since December 2000, when he led investigators to the slain woman’s body in a shallow grave near Marysville.

Townsend told the judge Larson’s letter may force prosecutors to seek a trial delay. After the hearing, he said he is "absolutely" certain Larson was truthful about Indle King’s involvement in the killing, and suggested Larson was coerced into writing the letter.

The letter was sent to Turgeon, 38, the former leader of a violent sect called the Gatekeepers, which was formerly based in Snohomish County. Members in 1998 embarked on a crime spree that was supposed to trigger the Apocalypse. Instead, Turgeon and another member were convicted of robberies, shooting at a California police officer and murdering a Mountlake Terrace man who had been a former member.

Turgeon, who insists he is the modern incarnation of the prophet Elijah, has been locked up at the county jail in Everett since July 2000. He is now serving more than 139 years behind bars.

Turgeon maintains the United States is destined for God’s wrath because it has legalized abortion and does not punish people who engage in homosexuality or who support equal rights for women.

Larson, who has a history of mental problems, was housed in the same part of the jail as Turgeon early this year when he attempted to fire his female public defender. He cited religious objections to being represented by a woman. Another member of Turgeon’s group had made a similar demand.

Larson ultimately abandoned his quest, but not before some unusual court appearances, notable in part because he had completely shaved his head and eyebrows.

Larson’s letter indicates that after talking with Turgeon in April, he recognized "God wants me to tell the truth about what happened, but I also realize that I have a real problem with letting my emotions get in the way."

Larson wrote Turgeon he alone killed Anastasia King, and urged the cult leader to use that information "to help me stay on the right path."

"You already know what happened, but just in case you forgot: I executed Anastasia King because God told me that she was an adulterous (sic), and that I needed to fulfill" Scripture and put her to death.

Larson described how God had given him "unbelievable" strength so he "could do this all by myself" and how the killing had rescued Indle King from "a very evil woman."

"I am so happy that God used me as his personal Avenger and saviour (sic)," Larson added. He signed the letter "Sincerely in Christ, The Prophet and Nazirite Daniel."

Townsend on Friday said prosecutors are exploring the possibility of calling an expert on cults to testify about Turgeon’s ability to manipulate others. Similar testimony was aired during Turgeon’s murder trial.

King’s attorney, Allen, told the judge that claims Larson was coerced ring hollow, in part because the man quoted the same biblical Scripture during a jailhouse interview with a Seattle television reporter, claiming it provided a justification for Anastasia King’s killing. The reporter is now listed as a potential defense witness.

Bowden told lawyers he will take up legal questions raised by Larson’s letter during a Jan. 4 hearing. The judge ruled Friday that jurors will be told about allegations King repeatedly lied about his wife’s whereabouts and statements he made to police, including a request that they shoot him after his wife’s body had been found.

You can call Herald Writer Scott North at 425-339-3431

or send e-mail to north@heraldnet.com.

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