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My Day in Court

 
By the time both sides had heard evidence from Jared, John, and Sheila, it was pretty clear that their claims of innocence were going to fall on deaf ears if the case went to court.  The only hope they had was if they could get me to join the Simpson/Onyejiaka clan in supporting their lies.  Though I had not given them any reason to believe that I would do other than tell the truth, they decided to press on with a deposition from me regardless.  

My deposition was to be held on July 8 in downtown LA, just after a deposition from Jeremy.  It would be my first meeting with Sheila, Jared, or John since leaving home to join the community.  Technically Sheila should not have been allowed entry, as she wasn’t a party to the proceedings; however, we knew the likelihood of her following such a rule was minimal.

Because of my family’s predisposition to violence, we also knew that walking into such a situation represented a risk, not only to me, but also to anyone with me.  We had moved from accommodation arranged by Gary to accommodation arranged by Jared's lawyer, thus giving us less leverage if we should have a complaint.  Our experience with police in Long Beach had led us to believe that we could not rely on them for safety.  To protect ourselves, we brought a video camera with us.  We could use it if things got out of hand.  After all, a girl with a camera had been the only thing that had saved Reinhard's life three years earlier.

Jesse, Reinhard, Jeremy, and I arrived as a group.  Jesse was not a party to the proceedings either, but we assumed Sheila would be there, and felt that we had a right to Jesse as a back-up if she did.

As expected, Sheila was waiting in the deposition room when we arrived.  Gary had not yet turned up.

Sheila approached me straightaway, saying it was good to see me.  I gave her a hug, and then she started badgering me about how I did not have to go through with the deposition.  She followed me around the building as I tried to get away from her and her attempts to keep me from testifying.  Jesse pulled the camera out and started filming. 

John and Jared were also in the room.  They made snide remarks while Sheila chased me around.  John said I was probably on drugs.  

After repeated requests for Sheila to stop chasing me, I told Gary (who had entered the room by this time) that I was leaving.  Jeremy’s deposition was scheduled first anyway; so I saw no point in hanging around to be harassed by Sheila.

Jared got up just before I left and moved toward Jesse.  He asked Jesse what he was doing, put his hand in front of the camera to block filming, and then bumped Jesse with his shoulder to intimidate him.  Jared looked agitated, like he could blow his fuse at any moment.  Luckily, his lawyer (Scott) rushed over to tell him to back off.

Jesse and I left after that point.  In the end, Jeremy’s deposition took longer than expected; my deposition had to be scheduled for another day.

That day came three weeks later.  Sheila came along once again.  We spoke to the security guard to make sure she did not enter the actual deposition room, and that she stayed out in the hallway with Jesse and Jeremy.

Most of the questioning was pretty straight forward.  One of Scott Mizen’s first questions was why we had brought a camera to the earlier deposition, on July 8.  He asked if we had done it to provoke a reaction from Jared.

I explained that our reasoning was simply self-defense.  Filming the attack on Reinhard had stopped the beating three years before.  Being in close proximity with my family amounted to entering a danger zone; so we had brought the camera along as protection.

Scott then proceeded to show me a list of university acceptance letters I had garnered over my last year in high school.  He went through most of them one by one: USC, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Stanford.   Then he pulled out a nomination I had received for the 2006 McDonald’s All-American High School Basketball Team, to wrap up his list of 'exhibits'.

I asked what the point of this was, and Gary explained:

Gary:  They are trying to foreshow what a brilliant guy you were before and then they’re going to show that these people that you’re hanging out with somehow influenced you to do worse.  I think you’re entitled to know what theory it is that you’re being subjected to.

There were questions about my role in the group, as co-leader.  I explained that I had been elected to the position in a group vote five months before, while our community was together in Kenya.

Then we moved on to my relationship with Jared.

Scott:  How would you describe your relationship with your father prior to the incident?

Me:  He did do a lot for me.  He was an active father, but as far as actually sharing thoughts and feelings, that didn’t really happen.

When asked about Jared's record of violence, I responded honestly.

Me:  Violent toward me?  I would say, no, other than if you want to say spanking or something like that.  But, as much as I hate to say it, he’s been violent.  There was an incident where I was seven and a kid pushed me and he (Jared) came and hit the kid and there was a fear that it would go to court, and then another incident with a guy named Richie Gwynn.  He called Sheila a name and so he got into a big fight, fought the guy down. 

Scott:  Did you tell your mother and father that you were communicating by email with the Jesus Christians?

Me:  I told them as soon as I started reading the website.  In fact I told her [Sheila] about the website and I was going on it and she said, 'Great'.  I came to one point where they were saying something about money, and at that point, Sheila said, ‘Well, watch out now.  They may be a cult.’

Scott: When was it that you first met a Jesus Christian member?

Me:  That wasn’t until maybe five months later, October of 2004, at Carson Christian Church.

Scott: Who was it that you met?

Me:  I met Casey and there was another guy named Barry.  We didn’t even really talk, because I was so afraid that we’d get the reaction that we got when Reinhard came to the house.  It was just “hello.”

Scott: How did you identify yourself to Casey and Barry for that meeting?

Me:  In case for some reason I couldn’t recognize Casey, I said, “My family is pretty much going to disagree with you being here... the fact that you’re White... so don’t come officially and, like, start trying to chat..."  This is the way it would work:  I’d drop a pen and he'd say, “Excuse me, did you drop this pen” so that it wouldn’t be obvious to Jared and Sheila.  It would just give me a chance to say 'hello'.

Scott: Were you still 16 years old at that time?

Me: Yes, I was 16.

Scott:  Did you tell your mother and father that you were going to meet with Casey and Barry?

Me: No, I didn’t.

I explained that we later settled into a pattern of meeting briefly at McDonalds about once a month.

Scott: Did you meet Mr. McKay during the time period that you were having once-a-month-meetings with Casey?

Me: Near the end, yeah.  I want to say March or April of 2005 [when I was 17 and a half].

Scott: How did the meeting with Mr. McKay come about?

Me:  I just remember Casey saying, “Dave is coming."  And I was saying, “I wonder if I can meet him” or something like that.  He came to McDonald’s probably half an hour.  There were a few people with him.  His wife Cherry was there.  I remember being introduced to Dave and him saying, “There’s only so much you can do, while you’re 17.”  He made clear, basically, I can’t join until I’m 18,  just – basically, try to stay respectful to your parents, which I tried to do.  “And you can do little things, like, maybe skip out on a movie ticket to help the poor,” something like that.  “Before you make any huge drastic changes in the way you live your life, you probably have to wait until you’re 18.”

I shared that I had been planning to go for my trial week with the group in January or February of 2006, before Josh’s bi-polar incident led me to put off that decision.

Scott then questioned me over when I first started calling Sheila and Jared by name.  I assumed he was talking about the one and only incident in which I referred to my father as Jared before I left home.  I never addressed my mother as Sheila until after I joined the Jesus Christians.

Scott: Well, when was it that you started calling your mother and father ‘Jared’ and ‘Sheila’?

Me:  That was the summer of ’05.  I think it was after my grandmother had died.  I think we had had her funeral and I think the concept of death made me more serious about important things in life like obeying Jesus… it was based off the teaching in the Bible, Matthew 23:9-12, where Jesus says, ‘Call no man father.  Call no man doctor (teacher).'

Scott:  Did you have aspirations of being a medical doctor?

Me:  No.  I saw that on the Fox report.  And I think at one point I may have said something like, you know… maybe if I don’t go to the NBA, I’d be a doctor.  But I haven’t had any serious aspirations to be a medical doctor and I’m not really interested.

The whole ‘doctor’ thing (both for Fox News then and Scott now), was to pretend that the Jesus Christians had robbed me of something that I had previously had my heart set on.  Even if that had been the case, it still did not justify beating to near death an unconscious man who had never resisted his attackers.  There was no way around it; what Jared and John had done (under Sheila’s instructions) was wrong, and nothing they could get me to say in this deposition was going to alter that.

Then the questions shifted to my trial week.

Scott:  Did you bring your cell phone with you?

Me:  Yes, I did. 

Sheila had earlier claimed in her deposition that I had not taken my cell phone when I went for my trial week, which of course was not true.  It was part of the whole myth about me being kidnapped.  I had heard all of the many voice messages they left while I was away; I simply chose to respond via email, rather than communicate via phone.  I have learned, because of their dishonesty, that this is the safest way to protect myself against their lies.  With emails I have what they have actually said in writing.

Scott:  What generally took place during the trial week?

Me:  A lot of talking, you know.  We had Bible discussions.  We did some outreach… also, email communication with Sheila.

Scott:  Did you discard your clothes during the trial week?  Throw them away in some fashion?

Me:  No, they were all in a duffel bag in the back of the trailer.

Then the questioning moved to just before returning home after the trial week.

Scott:  Did you call your father at any time prior to the attack to advise that you were coming home?

Me:  I made one call in between leaving for the trial week and May 5th.  That was around the time of Jared’s birthday.  Other than that, I think it was all email.  I think I told them, ‘Look, we’re coming to LA.  We’ll be there on, you know, Thursday or Friday,’ whatever, something to that effect, but I don’t think I made any more phone calls.  I think it was all written correspondence.

Scott:  It’s your recollection that you advised your mother and father that you were coming home by email?

Me:  Yeah, I told them, ‘We’ll be back in LA in a day or two,’ something to that effect.  That’s how they knew I was coming.

Even though the questions were fairly simple up to this point, I still found the deposition emotionally exhausting.  Every now and then Jared and John would shoot me a pointed look, which added to the atmosphere’s intensity.  Then Scott got into some tricks.

Scott:  The Jesus Christians have a rule that its members are to be accompanied by other Jesus Christian members when visiting family.

Me:  Would you like to provide some evidence of that rule?

Scott:  Well, let me ask you a different question.  Do the Jesus Christians have a rule that its members are to be accompanied by other Jesus Christians in visiting family members?

Me:  No.  There are members that visit their family all by themselves.  So I think if you want to make an assumption or say that we have a rule that we don’t, you should probably provide some kind of evidence to back that claim up.

The notion that there was a rule against members visiting relatives alone is often brought up by antagonistic parents just because we travel around together two by two.  Generally it is impolite to leave the other person in the motor home when one of us is visiting a relative, although we often do, especially when the other person has important business to attend to.  My family, however, was obviously the most violent family the community had ever encountered, and I would never dare to visit them on my own under the present circumstances.  

Scott:  You basically forego all worldly possessions in joining the Jesus Christians, correct?

Me:  You relinquish private ownership of your possessions, yes.

Scott:  Did Mr. Zeuner say anything as he entered the house?

I could see that Scott was gearing up for the whole ‘killers for Christ’ lie.  This had been invented by Craig Hendry, a bitter ex-member who, with the help of other people, had passed the lie on to the FBI three years earlier, in an attempt to get Jared and John off the hook for their crime.

Me:  I don’t recall him saying anything.  He may have said something like ‘hello’ or something like that, but…

Scott:  Do you recall him identifying himself as a Jesus Christian?

Me:  No.  That was already obvious.  She knew that I was coming with two Jesus Christians, that that was the community I had joined.  The aspect of Jesus Christians was clear by the day of the attack.

Scott:  Do you recall Mr. Zeuner or Mr. Kronmiller stating that they were killers for Christ as they entered the home?

Me:  Absolutely not.  That’s a horrible fabrication which – I don’t know who came up with that out of the three of you guys, but that’s crazy.

Scott:  Are you aware of the Jesus Christians ever being referred to as ‘Killers for Christ’?

Me:  No, okay?  I can’t even understand how this comes into the picture.  There was no mention of ‘Killers for Christ’.  We don’t call ourselves ‘Killers for Christ’.  It’s pretty much slanderous.

The ‘killers for Christ’ lie just infuriated me.  How could they be so dishonest as to pretend that we taught such a thing, when our community was made up of some of the strictest pacifists you’d ever find?  It was like a catch-cry for Jared’s defense team – just bandy the term around enough times and eventually it will stick.

There were other questions about Reinhard, Jeremy, and me ‘vibrating’ and doing martial arts moves, which I also denied, before we broke up for lunch.

Reinhard and I left the deposition room quickly, hoping the elevator door would close before Jared and John had a chance to reach them.  Neither of us wanted to be stuck in an elevator with just the two of them.

Once we got downstairs, we met up with Jesse and Jeremy and waited for Gary to make his way down.  Before Gary could get there, Jared and John popped out of the next available elevator.  John moved toward me with a piece of paper in his hand and offered it to me.  His gesture caught me by surprise.

John said: “If you want to know how to be a Christian, read this.”  I rejected it, but later realized that John had likely written some kind of note on it, in an attempt to get me to retract my testimony.  I had missed an opportunity to possibly get some valuable evidence.

Sheila and John’s religious pretenses amazed me.  John, for example, had taken to wearing rosary beads, and carrying around a Bible.  And Sheila could be spotted reading her Bible during breaks, as well.  I wondered whether or not it was just a show for the proceedings, or if they had really deceived themselves into believing that flaunting Bibles gave them the freedom to tell such lies.

The four of us walked with Gary to Subway for lunch.  None of us ate anything; we were too riled up to think about food.  We did, however, discuss with Gary how he felt things were going.  He said I was doing well – my testimony was accurate, and truthful, the two most important things.

After the break Scott's questions centered around our visit to see Prince, which followed the brutal assault against Reinhard.

Scott:  You voluntarily left and went to Pastor Prince’s at that point, correct?

Me:  No, I wouldn’t call that voluntary.  I felt like there was no way for me to leave the scene without the same violence being, you know, inflicted upon me.  Because, obviously, in their thinking, it’s like, 'Okay, Joseph’s going to go… Joe’s just going to go to the police… let’s beat him up so there’s not another witness there.'

Scott:  Did you at any point say that you did not want to go to Pastor Prince’s place?

Me:  I think I did.  I remember it just being, ‘No, you’re coming with us'.

Scott:  Did you at any point ask that your mother or father call the police?

Me:  No, I don’t remember saying anything.  I think I just said, ‘That was dumb.  You’re going to get in trouble by the police,’ something to that effect.

Scott wanted to challenge a comment I had made earlier about the injuries Reinhard suffered being ‘life threatening’.  This time, however, Gary stepped in.  It gladdened me to see him so passionate about the matter; I felt more confident that he had Reinhard’s best interests at heart.

Scott:  Well, what basis do you have to say that Mr. Zeuner’s injuries were life-threatening? 

Gary:  Wait.  Wait.  Counsel… Dr. Cowell said it to me.”

Scott:  We’re not going to get into this.

Gary:  Well, don’t lie to the witness.

Scott:  I’m not and I don’t like the tone of your voice.

Gary:  You can’t say to a witness, ‘You’re not aware of it’ when your own doctor said it to me.  That’s going too far.

Scott:  That’s not true.  You’re putting…”

Gary:  It’s not true that Dr. Cowell said to me that Reinhard’s injuries were life-threatening?

Scott:  I wasn’t there and I don’t want to get into… 

Gary:  I was.

Scott asked a few more questions after that, before ending his part of the deposition.  It had been a long day.

Click here to read part 20 of Joe's Story
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