2 12-02-88 03:37 pes Krishna devotee arraigned on murder charge By LINDA RAPATTONI LOS ANG

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2 12-02-88 03:37 pes Krishna devotee arraigned on murder charge By LINDA RAPATTONI LOS ANGELES (UPI) _ A Hare Krishna member, serving a sentence of life in prison in West Virginia for killing a fellow devotee, pleaded innocent Friday to the 1986 shooting death of a dissident Krishna member in Los Angeles. Thomas Arthur Drescher, 40, was arraigned on one count of murder with special circumstances making him eligible for the death penalty if convicted. Drescher is accused of shooting Steven Bryant, 33, twice in the head at close range May 22, 1986, as he sat behind the wheel of his van parked a block and a half from a Krishna temple. Bryant was an outspoken critic of the Krishnas. West Virginia authorities alleged Drescher was sent by the Krishna hierarchy at New Vrindaban, a Krishna community in Marshall County, W.Va., to kill Bryant. Drescher is serving a life prison sentence without the possibility of parole at the West Virginia Penitentiary at Moundsville for the 1983 murder of Krishna devotee Charles Saint Denis. Saint Denis was shot and repeatedly stabbed then buried near New Vrindaban. Drescher, who gave his "true name" Friday as Tirtha Swami, was extradited to Los Angeles Thursday after waging a lengthy court fight to stay in West Virginia. Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Sterling Norris said the two special circumstances filed with the murder count stem from an alleged murder-for-hire plot and prior conviction in Saint Denis's death. Norris declined to say who allegedly hired Drescher to kill Bryant, but said, "I think what the evidence will indicate is the witnesses to be called came from Hare Krishna temples in West Virginia and here in Los Angeles." "The murder was committed for financial gain ... but also for the very definite philosophy and commitment to Hare Krishna," Norris said. After Drescher was convicted of Saint Denis's murder, he was ordained a "swami," the Krishna's "ultimate" ranking, by Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, the spiritual head of New Vrindaban, said Los Angeles police detective Paul Tippin. In 1986, a West Virginia federal grand jury began a wide ranging investigation of New Vrindaban, a 3,800-acre temple complex near Moundsville, focusing on the community's finances and allegations of drug dealing and child abuse. That investigation has not been concluded. Bhaktipada has branded the investigation religious persecution and has said the huge temple complex is funded by worldwide donations, panhandling and the selling of incense. The Krishna religion began in 1965 when an Indian guru, A.C. Bhaktivedanta, known as Swami Prabhupada, moved to New York an began preaching on street corners. Devotees believe if they chant Krishna's name hundreds of times a day, devote their work to him, eat no meat and live a pure life free of sex except for procreation, they will merge with God.


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