The Septuagenarian Speaks – published September 2, 2020, Siskiyou Daily News
After about sixteen months of treatment at Atascadero State Hospital, 43-year-old Master David was transported back to Siskiyou County on October 20, 1999, having been declared “restored to competency” by the hospital staff. His first court appearance after his return was October 26, 1999, at which time the criminal charges against him were resumed, and his case was scheduled for preliminary hearing.
Master David was described in a Siskiyou Daily News report as being slight of build with long hair, a neatly trimmed beard, looking like an artist’s rendering of Jesus Christ. That is the way I remember him, as well. He told various people, “I am one of the greatest speakers in the world. I am omniscient. I know everything about everyone. When I work with someone, it is on a very different level.” In keeping with that, there was a humorous exchange in a court proceeding between Master David and William Davis, Assistant District Attorney at the time, now a Superior Court judge. Master David was on the witness stand, being cross-examined. He was first cross-examined by Deputy District Attorney Joseph Allison, who was taking a hard-ball approach with him, causing him to clam up. I had a recent conversation with Judge Davis about this, and this is what he told me:
“My recollection is that Master David was giving testimony at a hearing, before you, I believe, the purpose of which I can’t recall. Joe Allison had started with him and had made him angry, resulting in him refusing to answer any more of Joe’s questions. So I took over for Joe and used a ‘good cop’ approach, throwing in new-age terminology as best I could. Master David seemed to take a liking to me, and after a little while he commented, to the best of my recollection, ‘you are the second most intelligent person on the planet!’
“I certainly don’t mind if you use this anecdote in your article. It was, after all, the second most flattering compliment I’ve ever received.”
Denying the charges against him, Master David had said that if any of the charges were true (i.e. breaking a woman’s leg with a rock, forcibly raping her and imprisoning her) it was part of “The toughest Christian training course in the world,” which he described as, “a journey back to Heaven in an unparalleled adventure,” He said that all members of his church signed a contract and agreed to his “program.”
At one point in his case, when he was still representing himself, he requested that the court appoint a female private investigator to assist him. The reason he wanted a female investigator, he explained, was because many of the people he would seek to contact were women within his church, but he doesn’t allow men to talk to his female followers. The law requires the court to appoint counsel for indigent criminal defendants at public expense, and also requires appointment of an investigator, if there is a showing of a need for one. Master David had initially refused counsel, but was still legally entitled to an investigator, if he needed one. It was pretty easy to demonstrate a need, since he was incarcerated and therefore had no means of doing his own investigation work. But, as I recall, when I told him there were no female investigators available to be appointed, he changed his mind and said he didn’t need one after all.
Had Master David’s case gone to trial, his defense would no doubt have been that his victim consented to the acts committed upon her by volunteering to be a participant in his “program” and entering into a signed binding contract as did all his other followers; and that she had broken that contract by leaving the path of “truth and love.”
The problem for Master David was that consent is not a defense, at least to the majority of the charges against him. Voluntary consent, if believed, can be a defense to rape, but Master David was charged with multiple offenses in addition to rape. The criminal complaint filed against him contained thirteen counts and many special allegations. In addition to Forcible Rape, there were counts of Assault With Great Bodily Injury, Aggravated Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury, False Imprisonment By Violence, Terrorist Threats, Aggravated Mayhem, and Torture. You can’t legally consent to someone doing those things to you. Or can you? In a paper sent to the court, Master David suggested that his contract with his followers was not unlike contracts that professional athletes enter into with leagues and team owners. They assume the risk of injury. In another court paper, he advanced the idea that punishing him for his activities was a breach of his constitutional right to exercise his religion. You have to give him credit for thinking outside the box.
Based on the charges against him, Master David faced multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole. But his case didn’t go to trial. Instead, on Tuesday, February 8, 2000, Master David, his counsel, and the district attorney entered into a negotiated disposition wherein he pled guilty to one count of Assault With Great Bodily Injury and one count of Forcible Rape, as felonies, for a state prison term of ten years. I believed at the time, and still believe, that the disposition was reasonable under the circumstances. There are many factors to be considered by the parties and judge when deciding to enter into and accept a negotiated disposition in a criminal case. In this case, more than four years had gone by from the commission of the crimes until the case would have gone to trial. Passage of time makes obtaining a conviction more difficult. Witnesses can disappear or their memories fade. Evidence can be lost. This case had other difficulties as well. There were questions concerning how the jury would view the credibility of the victim. There was evidence that the victim, whom Master David had named “Sister Serene,” left his cult on numerous occasions, only to return, apparently voluntarily. Sister Serene kept a detailed diary describing her two-and-a-half years of training under Master David’s 40-step “intensive” program. Here is an excerpt, culled from hundreds of pages:
“My Life With A Spiritual Master – My Diary”
“He keeps amazing me. He knows everything. He knows of my pain, my struggles. How I think, everything. Even when I’m not with Him. He knew what I was thinking about the other morning and exactly why and how those particular thoughts had lowered my energy and my blood sugar was low. Then He changed it, just like that, balanced my blood sugar. I felt calmer and clearer.
“He said the doubts and fears will come and go – just be. It helps to keep reminding myself who I am and what I’m doing here …
“And oh how He Loves me! I can hear it with my heart.
Starting to see beyond the ego-self, and that it doesn’t really matter if the love is directed exclusively at me – just that there is love flowing all around. Looking in His eyes this morning and all those sexual thoughts – and suddenly realizing that that sexual being isn’t really who I am. I am way beyond that.”
If you were a juror, how much credibility would you give to Sister Serene’s testimony? Also, several people, claiming to be members of Master David’s organization, submitted notarized statements declaring that Sister Serene was lying. The case had problems and wasn’t a slam-dunk for the prosecution. One factor that was appealing about the plea disposition was that Master David, a British citizen, would be deported after completing his prison term. In retrospect, I guess I do have some remorse about that aspect of it, the idea of unleashing him upon our British friends. He was sentenced some twenty years ago; his prison term was completed about ten years ago, and presumably he is out there somewhere. Was he actually deported? Did the deportation occur as it was supposed to? Occasionally rumors pop up that he is back in the USA, in another cult under another name. Are they true?
In the earlier episodes of this adventure, I told you that Master David had written letters to Sherry Coonrod and Daniel Webster, then staff reporters for the Siskiyou Daily News, inviting them to participate in his organization. Did they accept? Just for fun, I toyed with the idea of not giving you their answers. After that diabolical idea passed, I then considered hedging the truth by telling you that they put much thought into it, discussed it with their families, and finally reached gut-wrenching decisions. That would have made for a more exciting story. But the truth is — and I always tell the truth here — the simple and correct answer is … no.