Drug-trafficking trial RELIGIOUS EVIDENCE OMITTED
by Karen Voyles
Else Christensen's ties to a fellowship that believes in a Norse god
were omitted from the evidence, but a phone call between the 79-year-old
woman and one of the witnesses against her was presented to the jury
in her drug trial Thursday.
The Danish-born Christensen, who moved to Crystal River 12 years ago
after retiring as manager of the X-ray department in a Toronto hospital,
and her co-defendant, Hilton Bennett Payne, 54, of Moultrie, Ga., are
on trial for drug-trafficking charges. The federal indictment was
issued after local, state and federal investigators linked a drug ring
to the 1990 murder of Marty Cryer in a Chiefland motel room.
Christensen was among those called to testify before a federal grand
jury against members of the ring -- incuding several of Cryer's relatives.
Prosecutors claim she lied to the grand jury about what she was paid to
drive to Texas to pick up marijuana and about her knowledge of the
drug deals at the time she made the trips.
To prove that Christensen lied, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael
Simpson wanted to read a transcript of Christensen's grand jury testimony,
which included references to her involvement in the Fellowship of Odinists.
Her attorney, Tom Edwards, objected to mention of the fellowship, claiming
the affiliation might unfairly reflect on his client during jury
U.S. Judge Maurice Paul permitted all references to Odin omitted
before the transcript was read to the jury.
Odin is a dominant figure in Scandinavian myth and legend. Symbols
associated with him are abundant in the pre-Christian art of the Viking
era. Odin has been portrayed as a patriarchal authority known as Alfather
(Father of All) with his children being the gods. Because, as legend
has it, Odin fought against some of those god-children he is also known
as Valfather (Father of the Slain.)
Christensen has been identified by state prison officials as a
representative or spiritual leader of the followers of Odin and has, for
the past several years, been permitted to minister to prisoners who
were also believers. She has traveled to Union Correctional Institution
and Cross City Correctional Institution as part of her prison ministry
Chaplain Frank Metcalfe, administrator of the state's prison chaplaincy,
estimated that 25 to 50 inmates throughout the state worship Odin and
have the right to request that they be allowed to meet with Christensen.
Metcalfe said his knowledge of Christensen's work made him believe that
she cared deeply about people.
That quality of caring was noted by one of the witnesses against
Christensen on Thursday.
Dan McKenzie, 30, of Hernando, Cryer's half-brother, testified that he
had called Christensen at her home Wednesday night, despite Paul's
admonition to all witnesses only to discuss the case with attorneys.
"I was mainly just trying to find out about my mother's condidtion,"
McKenzie's and Cryer's mother, Lola Rebecca Ash, testified for two
days about the drug ring. McKenzie tried to speak directly to Ash
following her court appearance, but was rebuffed by the U.S. marshal
because Ash was in custody. She is serving a 30-month sentence for
her role in importing marijuana into Florida.
"After I called her (Christensen), I knew it wasn't right," McKenzie
said. Both Christensen and McKenzie said the call was not adversarial,
even though McKenzie's purpose in testifying was to discredit
Christensen's claims that she did not know about the drugs involved
when she drove members of the Cryer family to Texas on two occasions.
During the phone call, Christensen reassured McKenzie that his mother
The trial recessed unexpectedly Thursday afternoon when a juror became
ill. Due to scheduling conflicts, the trial will not resume until
Wednesday at 9 a.m. at the federal building in Gainesville.