Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Children of Thunder: The Helzer Brothers


On June 16, a jury convicted Justin Helzer of 11 counts, including murder, extortion and kidnapping for his role in the killings. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

His defense lawyer tried to portray him as the mentally ill follower of a domineering old brother, according to the Chronicle. A psychiatrist who interviewed Justin in jail told the court that Justin sincerely believed his brother Taylor was a prophet of God and that Justin "was not able to comprehend that the homicides he committed were morally wrong."

The ploy failed. In July, just before the penalty phase of his case began, Justin had an outburst in the courtroom. "I want this life to be over," he said after jurors had taken their seats. "I want to die."

His mother started weeping loudly and Judge Mary Ann O'Malley tried to talk over the outburst as the jurors were escorted from the room, according to the Contra Costa Times.

Judge Mary Ann O'Malley
Judge Mary Ann O'Malley

"I'm just being truthful," he told the judge. "I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be rude - I just want to be free. I want freedom or death."

On August 4, 2004, four years to the day that the last victims were killed, Justin Helzer was sentenced to death for three of the murders he committed and life in prison for his role in the other two. The jurors cried openly as the court clerk read the sentence and the family members of the victims shouted an emphatic "Yes!" each time the clerk read the death verdict.

On December 15, 2004, another jury handed down five death sentences for Taylor Helzer. He comforted his attorney as the first verdict was read, according to the Chronicle, telling her, "It's okay."

Outside the courtroom, family members of the victims greeted the jurors with long hugs.

"[Taylor Helzer] is the second coming of Manson, not Christ," Olga Land, Villarin's sister, told reporters.

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