Convicted in Jonestown Shootings
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Larry Layton, the only former Peoples Temple member to be tried in this country, was convicted Monday of conspiring in the murder of Rep. Leo Ryan, an act that triggered the mass murder-suicide by the Rev. Jim Jones’ followers in a South American jungle eight years ago.
A federal jury also convicted Layton, 40, of aiding and abetting in the murder of Ryan and of conspiracy and aiding and abetting in the attempted murder of Richard Dwyer, a U.S. diplomat wounded in the same attack.
″This man was a killer,″ U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello told reporters after the verdict. He took part in the plot ″because he was a believer.″
Layton sat without changing expression, his hands folded, as the jury’s verdict was read after 25 hours of deliberation over six days. He gave consoling pats to two of his lawyers, Tony Tamburello and Assistant Federal Public Defender Marianne Bachers, who sat alongside him, before being led away by federal marshals.
Layton’s first trial, in 1981, ended in a hung jury. He has been free on bail and has been working in a local community under an alias.
Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Peckham scheduled sentencing for Jan. 23. The conspiracy charges and the charge of aiding and abetting in Ryan’s murder carry maximum penalties of life in prison.
Layton’s sister Debbie, whose departure from Peoples Temple and denunciation of Jones in May 1978 led her brother to leave California and join the settlement in Guyana, sat in the front row of the courtroom sobbing, her head in her hands.
Defense lawyers said the conviction would be appealed.
Layton, who admitted shooting and wounding two dissident temple members who were trying to leave with Ryan, was convicted of taking part in a plot by Jones to keep Ryan and his party from reaching the outside world with news of conditions at Jonestown.
Hours after Ryan and four others were killed on an airstrip in Guyana, Jones and 912 followers died by poison and gunfire in their nearby agricultural settlement of Jonestown, where Jones had moved the cult’s headquarters from California the previous year.
Ryan, a Democrat from the San Francisco Peninsula, had just completed a one-day fact-finding visit to Jonestown and was about to return to the United States along with 18 temple members who had approached him during his visit and said they wanted to leave.
Eleven people were wounded in the Nov. 18, 1978, airstrip attack, including Dwyer, deputy U.S. chief of mission in Guyana.
Layton, son of a wealthy Berkeley family who had joined Peoples Temple in California in 1968 along with several relatives, went to the airstrip posing as a defector. He boarded a plane carrying other defectors, separate from Ryan’s, and shot and wounded two of them as shooting broke out on the airstrip.
Arrested by Guyanese authorities, Layton signed a confession taking responsibility for all the deaths at the airstrip. He was acquitted in Guyana on charges of attempting to murder the two defectors and then brought back to the United States to face trial on charges involving Ryan and Dwyer, whose shootings were federal crimes.
Layton did not take part in the shootings of Ryan and Dwyer by about eight gunmen, who drove to the airstrip in a tractor-trailer and then returned to Jonestown where they they joined in a suicide ritual, swallowing fruit punch laced with cyanide.
But the prosecution contended Layton, a loyal follower of Jones, shot the defectors as part of a plot organized by the cult leader to make sure no one reached the outside world with information about conditions at Jonestown.
The jury listened to tape-recorded speeches of Jones to his followers, before Ryan’s arrival, denouncing the congressman and warning that if he and his party ″enter this property illegally, they will not leave it alive.″
Tamburello, referring to the tapes, said he ″was sorry to hear that Jones was able to come back and get another person, another victim, from the grave.″
Russoniello said the speeches were proof that Layton knew the targets of the plot included Ryan. He also said Layton’s complicity was proved by his obtaining a gun, posing as a defector, and shooting the defectors, enabling the ambush squad to approach Ryan separatelfy and catch him unawares.
Noting that a majority of jurors in the first trial had voted for acquittal, Tamburello told reporters that Monday’s verdict was a product of ″a time of increasing conservatism″ in which the public has abandoned its former skepticism of conspiracy charges.
Jury foreman Ronald Iskow of San Mateo and another juror, Sharon Hannis of San Pablo, told reporters they found the tapes persuasive evidence that there was a conspiracy to kill Ryan and that Layton became a conspirator after hearing the speeches.
Layton was ″one of the underlings and did what he had to,″ Iskow said.
The defense had said there was no evidence that Layton was part of any plot against Ryan, and strong evidence to the contrary: For example, Layton boarded a truck leaving Jonestown when Ryan was planning to stay behind and leave the next day, and at the airstrip Layton insisted on boarding a separate plane from Ryan’s.
Instead, the defense argued, Layton was intent only on shooting defectors, prompted by a Jones-inspired delusion that they were CIA agents.
Tamburello told jurors that Layton, who had been in a depression over the recent death of his mother, was ″acting alone and not in concert with anybody else″ when he went to the airstrip. He also said Layton was being used as ″the scapegoat for everybody″ connected with the Peoples Temple killings.
Jackie Speier, who was an aide to Ryan at the time of the shootings and was wounded in the attack, was sworn into office as a newly elected assemblywoman on Monday. She cried when she was told on the Assembly floor about the verdict.
″I was overwhelmed to hear the news,″ she said. ″It brings to a final conclusion a tragic story,″ she said.