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The Outcome of the Trial

 Our apologies for being so slack about reporting the results of the trial. It has been a full week since it was held.

The trial format was simple. We rented a school auditorium, and seated ten members of the 'jury' on one side of a long table at the front of the auditorium. We used a hand-held microphone as people spoke, and there were a couple of displays (a simple map of the house, yard, and street around where the attack took place, and a calender outlining key events over a three week period from when Joe first left home for a trial week with us, to when he returned to the community several days after the attack).

Joe, Reinhard, Jeremy, and Dave gave statements. The first three were eye-witness accounts of what transpired; whereas Dave's comments had more to do with impressions he had received from private discussions and live Internet chats around the time of the attack and in the five months since. After each statement, members of the jury were able to ask questions to further clarify points being made.

Joe's mother had expressed great interest in knowing where the trial was going to take place, but gave no indication that she would co-operate with the proceedings. Up to the last minute, the group was open to the possibility of giving the family the address. Joe had even asked them to be at home by the phone, so that we could phone through the address at the last minute. However, his mother said that they would all be out "doing something" for eight hours before the trial was scheduled to start. We later learned that the "something" involved searching all of Long Beach for any signs of our vehicles.

Right at the start of the trial, Joe phoned Sheila (his mother) on her mobile phone (when he received no answer from their home phone), telling her that the call was being recorded (as he was using a speaker phone), and that he was about to read his statement. He said that she would be able to make any comments that she wanted to make when he completed his statement. She said that she could be home in five minutes to take the call there, because she did not have much time left on her cell phone.

The trial was delayed for about fifteen minutes while we waited for Sheila to get home. (We have since pieced together that she was probably outside the school auditorium (which had been locked up by this time) when the call was made, and that she had raced home, then returned to join the crowd she had brought to the school to get Joe after the trial.) Sheila took the call, quoted Jesus' statement to Judas: "Do what you have to do, but do it quickly.", and then hung up on Joe before he had even spoken for one minute. We accepted this as disinterest on her part in anything that was happening during the trial, and so we continued with the statements and verdicts without her or any other member of the family participating.

Joe told how he had known of the group for two years, and that he had decided when he was sixteen that he wanted to join the community, but that he had continued to study hard and to play basketball enthusiastically (with encouragement from the Jesus Christians) for those two years, until he was old enough to join without permission from his parents. He told of his younger brother, Josh, forcibly dragging him away from the door, where he would have been able to at least see the attack on Reinhard. He was held in the bedroom throughout the attack, and when he returned to the living room, he saw his mother, Sheila, watching the attack from the front door, with a gun in her hand. His mother organised the family's getaway and immediately took them all to visit Prince Sullivan, a cult-buster who works in or runs the First Street Laundry in Long Beach. In defence of Joe's family, Prince told Joe that he would kill anyone who came between him and his family. Joe's step-brother, John, threatened Joe when they were outside the laundry, and the whole family quizzed him aggressively with regard to Reinhard's sexual orientation. (Reinhard is gay.)

Joe admitted that he had given little thought to Reinhard's physical state during the rest of that day and the next, despite the fact that he had seen Reinhard lying in a pool of blood and "looking dead" when they drove away. He stated that this tendency to think selfishly was common in his family, and that it was only when he started spending time with the Jesus Christians that he began to develop sincere feelings of compassion for others.

Joe told how he had been treated suspiciously by Jeremy and the other Jesus Christians in Los Angeles, when he phoned them from the motel where his family was hiding. He later learned that they were afraid that he was going to lead his family to them if they gave him their whereabouts. When he returned to the community, late at night, two days after the assault, he was met with further suspicion, especially when he began pushing for the community to take no action against his family. He was eventually kicked out of the community, very late at night, and told to go back home and think things through, to be sure about what he really wanted to do with his life, and then to try doing it on his own and not with the Jesus Christians.

Joe said that, after leaving the community and returning home, he had started to doubt what the Jesus Christians had been teaching, and to believe that he had been conned; but he sat down to pray and to read through the Gospel of Matthew. By the time he reached the end of it, he was convinced that, regardless of hurt feelings over the suspicions that he had encountered, what the Jesus Christians were teaching was definitely consistent with what Jesus taught. He returned to the community, and has been with us ever since.

In Reinhard's testimony, there was very little hard evidence, because of the fact that Reinhard more or less lost consciousness following the first blow from Jared, in the head. He remembers stumbling toward the front gate, and being kicked in the face by someone, but little more than that until he woke up in hospital.

Jeremy told of being forced out of the house by Jared (Joe's Dad) and then seeing John (Joe's step-brother) pull up in front of the house. He yelled a warning to Reinhard and then jumped the fence to run down the street, with John in pursuit. When Jeremy stopped running and turned around to return to the house, he saw that John had already returned and was kicking Reinhard in the head and back on the footpath in front of the gate. Jeremy twice taunted John into chasing after him, in order to get him away from Reinhard, but each time when John was not able to catch him, John would return to kicking Reinhard.

Eventually, however, a crowd gathered and John started shouting that the pair had "robbed my momma's house". A spectator had shot video footage of John kicking Reinhard and then running after Jeremy, and this had been given to the Long Beach Police, but the Long Beach police department would not release either the name of the woman who filmed the video or a copy of the video to be used by the Jesus Christians.

The court was told that the Long Beach Police Department had done nothing about the attack, even though it had been five months since it had taken place. Instead, it had acted on false claims from Sheila that Joe had been kidnapped by a dangerous cult. A record of the police report which Joe filed at the hospital after the attack was tendered, along with photos of Reinhard, taken while he was in the hospital, after he had regained consciousness.

In Dave's statement he talked about impressions he had received from both Joe and Reinhard with regard to what had happened, and how religion had played a part in the family's total lack of accountability for their actions.

When that statement had been given, there were a few moments of silence, as we waited on individual members of the jury to speak with respect to any one of the four defendants. Jared Johnson and John Onyejiaka had been charged with attempted murder, and Sheila Simpson-Johnson and Joshua Johnson had been charged with being accessories to the attack.

Dave spoke first, expressing sympathy with Jared's role as a husband and a father, as well as a school teacher. Dave explained that he had found from his own experience in all three roles that the task is often thankless and that there are often people who want to tell leaders what they must do. He expressed his own conviction that Jared had largely acted under orders from Sheila, but stressed that real leaders have to take responsibility for their actions, and that Jared owes it to Joe to be the kind of example that Joe can look up to. Dave declared Jared guilty of attempted murder, and prescribed a sentence of 25 lashes from a whip as punishment. Because Jared had made no attempt to accept responsibility for his actions, Dave agreed to take the punishment for him.

There was a raised platform with a mattress on it, which Dave laid on while receiving the lashes. He was fully clothed, and the stripes were spaced over his back, buttocks and thighs.

Cherry spoke next, addressing her thoughts to Sheila. She complimented Sheila on having raised a wonderful son, and acknowledged that many of Joe's good qualities had doubtless come from her influence. However, she said that she felt she was expressing the opinion of the jury that Sheila had been the real mastermind behind all that had transpired, and that she had failed to appreciate that Christian love must extend beyond one's own family and race. Cherry reminded Sheila that Reinhard also has a mother and that his mother is proud of him. She pointed out that Reinhard too, is gifted, and that he can speak nine different languages, and that he is an environmental engineer. She tried to get Sheila to consider how Reinhard's mother would feel about the terrible injuries that were inflicted on him. Cherry said that she believed Sheila was far more guilty than the evidence would allow, but that she should at least be punished for what had clearly been shown, which is that Sheila was an accessory to the crime. She gave Sheila a choice of either shaving her head and leaving it uncovered for three months as a symbol of her repentance, or of receiving five lashes from the whip. In Sheila's absence, Cherry agreed to take five lashes herself as punishment in the place of Sheila.

Joe was the next to speak, and he later said that it was about that time that it was getting home to him just how permanent and real the spiritual separation had become between him and his parents because of their actions, both before the trial and during it. As a consequence, he was not able to say anything more than that he found Josh guilty of being an accessory and that he was going to take five lashes of the whip on behalf of Josh.

Jeremy was the last to speak, and he addressed his thoughts to John. The weight of evidence against John was the strongest, and it seemed clear that Reinhard's worst injuries probably came from John's repeated kicking in the face and back, causing four cuts to the face that required stitches, several broken teeth, bleeding on the brain, and a fractured spine, along with numerous other bruises. Jeremy prescribed a penalty of 25 lashes for John, which he agreed to take on John's behalf.

Thoughout the lashings, the atmosphere in the auditorium was extremely tense. Dave and Cherry were interviewed after their ordeal. Joe ran into a side room to escape the media when his whipping was finished, and the media showed no interest in interviewing Jeremy. Dave and Cherry stressed that physical pain is temporary, that the pain was already easing as they spoke to the media, but that spiritual pain can be eternal.

The attitude of the media shifted dramatically during the floggings, and it was argued that Jeremy had to be brainwashed to have agreed to take such a punishment. Jeremy himself interjected that he had not been pushed into volunteering for the role, but that appeared to have fallen on deaf ears.

When the interviews were finished and it was time to leave the auditorium, we spotted Joe's step-brother outside with a small gang of young men (and one woman). We called the Long Beach Police Department, but they were very slow in coming. When nothing had happened for quite some time, some of our members decided to make a run for the vehicles; but they quickly returned to the auditorium when the crowd came racing toward them from around the corner of the building. Eventually the police arrived, and we were able to move our equipment and ourselves to the vehicles, and to drive away while they held the crowd at the scene.

Sheila later wrote to Joe and expressed concern for the welfare of those who had taken the punishment, but then returned to lecturing him about how they didn't need to be forgiven for anything because they have been saved by the blood of Jesus.

We stopped for a bit of a celebration late that night, during which we all shared a few laughs, showed off and discussed our wounds, and during which we made further plans. Reinhard was especially thankful for our support and for our strong statet to the world that what happened to him was very wrong, and that the failure to act on the part of the Long Beach Police Department was a gross injustice.

Joe has since left the state, with a few other Jesus Christians, and plans are being made to shift our base to the East Coast of the U.S. in order to put further distance between ourselves and Joe's family.

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