United Press International Charleston, W.Va. Aug. 14, 1987 8 08-13-87 10:25 ped picture By
United Press International
Aug. 14, 1987
8 08-13-87 10:25 ped
By THOMAS FERRARO
MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. (UPI) _ A Hare Krishna swami today awaited a
likely trip to California to be tried for the murder of an ex-communicated
member of the India-based sect.
Marshall County Circuit Judge Steven Narick Thursday granted a
request by California to send the swami, Thomas Drescher, to Los Angeles to
face charges that he gunned down Steven Bryant in that city on May 22, 1986.
Narrick then delayed the order until Sept. 4 so Drescher can appeal
to the West Virginia Supreme Court. Drescher said he would promptly do so,
but fully expects to lose.
"I'm not worried about going to California," Drescher said just
before being led from the courtroom in leg and wrist irons. "Wherever I go,
my business, my mission, is the same _ to preach."
Last January, in an unrelated case, Drescher was convicted of
murdering another devotee, Charles St. Denis, in a personal dispute in 1983.
He was sentenced to life in prison.
If convicted of murdering Bryant, Drescher could be sentenced to
death. West Virginia does not have the death penalty.
Sources close to the investigation say authorities suspect that
Drescher, 38, killed Bryant, 33, under orders from New Vrindaban, the
biggest Krishna community in North America with several hundred saffron-
Bryant, who once lived at New Vrindaban, spent much of the last two
years of his life criss-crossing the country, alleging corruption at New
Vrindaban _ ranging from child abuse to drug dealing.
Kirtananada Swami Bhaktipada, formerly Keith Ham, is the spiritual
leader of New Vrindaban. He denies Bryant's allegations and maintains
Drescher denies killing anyone and insists that he and New
Vrindaban, now the subject of various investigations stemming from Bryant's
allegations, are the victims of religious persecution.
At Thursday's court hearing, four Krishna members testified they saw
Drescher at a religious festival at Ohio State University in May 1986 about
the same time of Bryant's murder in Los Angeles. One member said he saw
Drescher early May 22, just hours after Bryant was shot at 1 a.m., Los
But Los Angeles homicide detective Leroy Orozco presented a
statement by the owner of a car rental agency in that city saying he rented
an auto to Drescher two days before the murder.
According to the statement by Gabriel Alon, he received a telephone
call from Drescher the morning of May 22, saying he had left the car at Los
Angeles International Airport.
Under cross-examination, Orozco said Alon did not know where
Drescher was when he made the phone call. Drescher maintains he didn't rent
the car and wasn't in Los Angeles when Bryant was killed.
Marshall County Prosecutor Thomas White said of the four Krishnas'
testimony: "I believe it is fabricated." Defense attorney Mark Karl said the
four came forward several weeks ago.
Narick, in issuing his ruling from the bench, said the court finds
"from a totality of the circumstances and preponderance of the evidence,"
that Drescher was in California, "at or near the time charged."
Worldwide, the number of fulltime devotees of the India-based
Krishna religion is estimated to be about 5,000, down 50 percent from a
decade ago. About half live in North America.
In the past 10 years, the religion has been hit with corruption.
Seven of the original 11 gurus named by the modern movement's founder have
been expelled or forced to resign for reasons ranging from drug use to
Last March, New Vrindaban's Bhaktipada was excommunicated by the
governing body of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, which
accused him of insubordination and of trying to make himself the sect's sole
Bhaktipada charged that the action was unwarranted and meaningless.
He also accused the governing body of being jealous of him.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank