Leader of Religious Sect Sentenced For Drug Offenses
RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) _ Lightning Amen, leader of a desert-dwelling religious sect, was sentenced to five years in prison for drug offenses during a court session disrupted by outbursts from his followers.
Riverside Superior Court Judge Howard M. Dabney rejected a plea for probation for the 50-year-old head of the Christ Family religious sect.
Amen shook his head in disbelief at Tuesday’s sentencing. The maximum term was seven years.
Four of Amen’s followers were removed from the courtroom by bailiffs and sheriff’s deputies, and one outburst led to a contempt of court citation.
A jury convicted Amen in June on five charges, including the transportation and possession for sale of methamphetamines. Drugs, $30,000 and a firearm were found Oct. 3 in Amen’s truck in a police stop on Highway 74.
Amen legally changed his name from Charles Franklin McHugh three years ago. He said Tuesday that the Christ Family had been defunct for two years.
The family was a loosely formed band of more than a dozen members who once roamed the California desert before moving to the Hemet area, 75 miles east of Los Angeles, in the early 1980s. The members, many of whom believe Amen is Jesus Christ, wore white robes and espoused vegetarianism and non-violence.
Amen has denied he possessed drugs for sale.
″I did possess the methamphetamine ... (but it) was never intended ... for sale to anyone,″ he said in an unsigned declaration submitted in court.
Ten members of the group were sentenced to jail in 1985 for growing $900,000 worth of marijuana at the sect’s ranch near Hemet. Some members said they smoked marijuana because God put it on Earth for man’s pleasure.
Amen, who was not prosecuted in that case, said he was unaware of the marijuana cultivation.