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
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
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
"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