Jury orders supremacist pastor to pay $26 million
Sunday, May 5, 2002
LEBANON, Mo. -- A Southwest Missouri pastor may be forced to dismantle the church he spent a lifetime building after jurors Saturday ordered him to pay $26 million for abducting his six grandchildren and indoctrinating them in his anti-Semitic beliefs.
Jurors deliberated about four and a half hours before returning the award in a civil lawsuit that accused the Rev. Gordon Winrod, his son Stephen and daughter Carol of using "mind-altering techniques," such as keeping the children in isolation and whipping them, to meld the children's attitudes.
The lawsuit was filed by Joel Leppert, his brother Tim Leppert and two of Tim Leppert's abducted children -- Nathan Leppert, now 21, and Erika Leppert, now 19.
Their attorney, David Pointer, told jurors they had an obligation to award the Lepperts money for their pain and suffering. The men owe about $299,000 for the treatment of two children at a North Dakota state psychiatric hospital.
Pointer, who had asked for about $20 million in actual and punitive damages, said he was pleased with the finding.
"I think it was important for all the children and their fathers to see that jurors and the courts viewed the case the same way we viewed it," Pointer said. He said it was unclear how they would collect the award.
The three Winrods, who had acted as their own attorneys, huddled together and read from the Bible after the jury decision was announced. They declined comment.
Donna Leppert, Gordon's 18-year-old granddaughter and Tim Leppert's estranged daughter, called the award "unfair and cruel."
Earlier Saturday, Gordon Winrod, 74, turned his closing argument into an impassioned sermon about a "Jewish conspiracy" aimed at the moral destruction of the world. He quoted extensively from the Bible and said Jews were part of everything from courts and law enforcement to the media.
"It's all part of a great program of Sodom -- Jew Sodom," he said. "The Jews hate us, so they bring us to court."
Winrod, already serving a 30-year prison sentence in the abductions, insisted he was only protecting the children from conspirators for their "moral and spiritual good" and that they were free to go any time.