IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Cult leader who killed 5 sentenced to death

A religious cult leader convicted of shooting a family to death in 1989 will be executed in October, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
Jeffrey Lundgren
Jeffrey Lundgren, who formed a religious cult after being dismissed as a lay minister, will be executed on Oct. 10.Ohio Department Of Rehabilitatio / OHIO DEPARTMENT OF REHABILITATIO
/ Source: The Associated Press

A religious cult leader convicted of killing a family of five in 1989 will be executed on Oct. 10, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Jeffrey Lundgren, 56, was convicted of shooting to death a man, his wife and his three daughters who had moved from Missouri in 1987 to follow Lundgren’s teachings. He referred to the killings as “pruning the vineyard.”

Lundgren formed a religious cult after he was dismissed in 1987 as a lay minister of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

He had attracted a following, and several people moved with him to a rented farm house about 30 miles east of Cleveland, where they called him “Dad” and contributed money for group expenses.

The victims were Dennis Avery, 49; his wife, Cheryl, 46; and daughters Trina, 15, Rebecca, 13, and Karen, 7.

On April 17, 1989, the Avery family was invited to dinner, then led to a barn. There they were bound and placed into the pit, where Lundgren shot each one. The pit was filled with dirt.

Kirtland police found Dennis Avery’s body Jan. 3, 1990, leading to Lundgren’s arrest days later in California. A jury convicted him of five counts of aggravated murder and five counts of kidnapping.

In an unsworn statement at his 1990 trial, Lundgren told the jury that he and his cult were preparing for the second coming of Jesus Christ, which they believed would occur at the Reorganized Church’s temple in Kirtland. He said the spiritually unclean had to be dealt with.

Lundgren said a combination of messages from the Bible told him to kill the Averys. Cult members had testified that although the Averys were members of the sect, Lundgren considered them less enthusiastic.

Lundgren and his wife were among 13 cult members arrested in the case. Most lived at the Kirtland farm, and some pleaded guilty to reduced charges. Alice Lundgren was sentenced to five terms of life in prison for conspiracy, complicity and kidnapping.

Jeffery Lundgren has exhausted all his appeals, said Bob Beasley, spokesman for Attorney General Jim Petro.