WASHINGTON, D.C. - Catherine Jane Stubbs has pleaded guilty to conspiring in 1985 to kill the then-United States Attorney for Oregon, Charles H. Turner, the Department of Justice announced today. At that time, Stubbs, aka Ma Shanti Bhadra, aka Catherine Jane Stork was a member of an international religious cult headed by the late Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Bhagwan) and headquartered on a 64,000 acre commune in Oregon. The guilty plea took place in Portland, Oregon, before U. S. District Judge Malcolm F. Marsh. Stubbs also pleaded guilty to violating federal firearms law in regard to her role in the purchase of weapons to be used to kill Mr. Turner. The court could impose any sentence up to life imprisonment in this case.
In May 1990, a federal grand jury in Portland, Oregon, indicted Stubbs and six other commune members, including Sheela Silverman (Sheela), the Bhagwan's second-in-command, for the 1985 conspiracy to kill the U. S. Attorney. With the exception of Sheela, all those charged by the grand jury with the conspiracy were also charged in a separate count with violating federal firearms law.
Stubbs, who is a naturalized German national, has remained in that country for the past 20 years, and in 1991, Germany declined a request of the United States for her extradition. On September 21, 2005, Stubbs voluntarily returned to the United States to plead guilty to the indictment without seeking any sentencing considerations. She requested that the court, before imposing sentence, allow her to visit her son in Australia, who is gravely ill with a progressive, incurable brain cancer. The court granted that request with the approval of the victim of the conspiracy and without objection by the United States. Judge Marsh has set the sentencing of Stubbs for December 6, 2005.
At the time of the 1985 conspiracy, the U. S. Attorney in Oregon had been directing a federal grand jury investigation of various crimes allegedly committed by commune members, including massive wiretapping and immigration fraud involving hundreds of sham marriages. The sham marriages enabled the Bhagwan's disciples (known as "sannyasins") from abroad to remain in the United States. The grand jury investigation threatened the existence of the commune because it could expose many sannyasins and the Bhagwan himself to criminal prosecution, imprisonment, and deportation.
In May 1985, Sheela called a meeting of her closest subordinates and initiated a conspiracy to kill the U. S. Attorney. At this meeting, Stubbs agreed to join the conspiracy and subsequently performed several acts in furtherance of it, including volunteering to be the actual killer, buying weapons, and surveilling what was thought to be Mr. Turner's workplace garage.
With the sentencing of Stubbs, all seven indicted defendants will have been convicted for their roles in the conspiracy. Five of Stubbs' indicted co-defendants have been convicted of the murder conspiracy in the District of Oregon. The sixth, Sheela, a naturalized Swiss national and like Stubbs not subject to extradition, was convicted in 1999 by a Swiss court of committing "criminal acts preparatory to the commission of murder," the Swiss equivalent to the U. S. murder conspiracy statute. An eighth unindicted commune member plead guilty to the murder conspiracy in 1990.