An Interview with a Member of the Jury
What were the real reasons J. Donald Walters and his church were found guilty of fraud and fined over 1.6 million dollars? Ananda has offered many excuses for their defeat. Do any of them match what the jury actually experienced and felt?
Post-trial quotes and excerpts from interview
'Juror A:' is the 'Member of the Jury, letter A'
'I' is the Interviewer
EXCERPTS FROM INTERVIEW:
Interveiwer: What was your experience with the other jurors; were you pretty cohesive?
Juror A: ....It was a cohesive group. When we were able to communicate with each other [about the case], we didn't have some really disparaging points of view. Everybody was pretty much on the same wavelength....
Interveiwer: What was your impression of Swami Kriyananda?
Juror A: To put it into a very few words, kind of a "holier than thou" type of attitude. That "She's full of it" and, you know, kind of some head-shaking kinds of things. I just really got the sense that he was kind of pooh-poohing the testimony, like, "How could anybody believe that of me?" And I wasn't particularly impressed with his testimony, because there was a certain amount of arrogance in it, again. "Even though [he] made a few mistakes, so what?" was kind of the attitude I was getting from that. I noticed his lack of sympathy for the women.
Interveiwer: Did you hear there was another court case brought against Ananda by SRF earlier, and that Ananda said SRF might be staging this whole thing?
Juror A: ....I didn't believe that it was an SRF thing at all.
Interveiwer: Do you think that meditation itself and chanting always lead to "brainwashing"?
Juror A: Oh, I don't think so, un-un....I'm probably not a strong believer in brainwashing. I think that people are vulnerable to powers of suggestion, and wanting to be part of a group, and having group-think, as it was termed a couple of times. I think that that happens, and I think because she was vulnerable and looking and seeking some civility and something to hang onto in her life, it just made her susceptible to falling into that group-think. And follow the crowd. I mean, it's human nature.
Interveiwer: So it wasn't so much meditation and chanting, it was more suggestions from everyone?
Juror A: That's right. That's right. And those messages, that this is -- The light and the darkness, I guess is what I'm trying to get to. If you're doing THESE things, you're increasing your chances of being closer to God, and if you're doing THOSE things, you're putting up barriers. And so that kind of thing could really push you to a certain direction. So those messages -- you see, I can't call that brainwashing. It's the coercion of the group.
Interveiwer: What did you think of [Woman #1]?
Juror A: She looked like she led a fairly simple home life, and had a demeanor about her, a mellowness, and an innocence....I wanted to smack the guy [Swami Kriyananda].
Interveiwer: What did you think of [Woman #15]?
Juror A: Okay. Yeah. She was one of the ones who realized right away that something was wrong, and got the hell out of there, as I recall. I thought that it was a good indicator that there were varying levels of what was going on. And then someplace later on in testimony, it came out...that there was this kind of ethic project: you [Swami Kriyananda] kind of see how far you can go, and if that works out without any red flags, then you move to the next level, and the next, until you get to a [Woman #1] or a [Woman #2] kind of situation. She [Woman #15] put up the red flag.
And the community seems to have protections all around it....it seems like all of these protections are built around the community. You know, take care of Swami....
And this, ugh, this poverty issue. That really slayed me. I'd like to be as poor as that. And have somebody taking care of my yard, and somebody cleaning my house, and doing -- You know, I pay a lot of money to get my house cleaned. But I have to pay for it myself. Somebody that does my secretarial kinds of stuff, and "Gee, I think I'll go to Italy next week," and someone making arrangements for me, I go to the airport, hop on a plane, and I'm there. I mean, this is not a life of poverty....I'm going to France this summer, and I know how much money it costs....I would surmise that all of those people in the quote "inner circle," as it was described a couple of times -- I suspect that they all make a good living, or have a lot of things being taken care of for them under the guises of "church visits," "church goings," and they live a life of luxury. Granted, it's a more simple life, because they live in a rural community. But, it's what they want. And they get everything they want. And that's the bottom line. They're getting everything that they want, in my eyes. That's the picture that I saw.
Interveiwer: What did you think of [Woman #3] and her testimony?
Juror A: It was a boundary issue. I can't imagine, myself, you know, "Oh, come on in. Take your clothes off. Lay on top of me." It just takes something just a little bit -- I don't know what -- what brings a person to say something like that to another person, you know? It's way over the boundary. Way over....Because of the illusion that he has given about his own superiority, he oversteps everyone else's boundaries.
Interveiwer: Did you ever see the plaintiff's lawyers treating it like a case of religious persecution?
Juror A: Not at all, no. I think that was very clear, that it was not religious persecution, in my mind. It was not about that at all. And I never got the feeling that I was judging Ananda as a church. I feel sorry for members of Ananda Church. Here they are in a community where they want to practice something that they really believe in. I can understand why they would do that. I can embrace their right to do that. There's aspects of it that sound ideal, in many ways, to me. And yet they're being bamboozled by this group of people, with Swami at the top. The leadership crew. I have no doubt at all.
Interveiwer: What did you think of the punitive damages testimony?
Juror A: I was absolutely appalled at their bookkeeping....I know there have got to be checks and balances and such, and when money is going in and out, in and out, money laundering -- I mean, that's what it sounded like to me....
And just the money going to and from Crystal Hermitage -- just to pay Swami out of this? Padma has some ability just to write checks that nobody knew about, nobody cared, it just happened. It doesn't seem like a good way to run a corporation whether it's non-profit or otherwise.
Interveiwer: What did you think of Swami Kriyananda's testimony?
Juror A: His demeanor was such that he was above all of this....He really presented himself as being just as special sitting there on the witness stand as he is sitting in front of his community. And I think he needed to be slapped up the side of the head....
I think the overall -- to put it incredibly eloquently -- Overall, we thought Swami was a scumbag. That was the bottom line.
Interveiwer: Do you know that every day when the trial was over for the day, Ananda would have a hotline update, where they'd talk about the trial?
Juror A: Yes, we did hear about that. The one thing that did come out in the trial -- I remember comments that the jury looked upon Swami's testimony favorably. Fool!
Interveiwer: What was your opinion on the use in the trial of the word "cult"?
Juror A: They didn't stress the word "cult."
Interveiwer: Here's a quote from Ananda since the trial ended: "Ananda does not condone or tolerate sexual harassment or sexual abuse in any form by any of its members or leaders." Do you have any comments on that?
Juror A: Well, that's a matter of semantics. They can easily say that they don't condone it, but do they turn their backs and close their eyes if they know it's happening? I mean, what are you going to do? Put up a big sign that says, "Come to Ananda Village. We approve of sexual harassment." But by turning their backs, it's the same thing [as condoning it]. You can SAY that you don't condone it, but if you aren't doing anything about it, then it's -- what's that phrase? -- kind of like lying by omission, essentially. It's kind of that same idea.
Interveiwer: Here's another quote from Ananda since the trial ended: "Mike Flynn and Ford Greene repeatedly compared Ananda to groups like Waco and Jonestown in a calculated attempt to engender fear and anger in the jury." Did you ever feel fear and anger during the trial?
Juror A: ....I don't think Mike or Ford ever tried to engender fear or anger in the jury, absolutely not....
Interveiwer: Ananda says the other side's case was full of "terrible lies" about them; did you feel that one side or the other was lying?
Juror A: I think probably some lies were told, but I think that the foundation of the case wasn't based on lies.
A bunch of lies, no. Well, disguising the truth is what was happening on Ananda's side. I think that elements of the truth were behind what they were saying, but out of protection, they weren't straight-forward about all of the pieces.
Interveiwer: What did you think when people from Ananda said that they had no idea that Swami had been doing this for years?
Juror A: I believed them.
Interveiwer: Even, like, Jyotish?
Juror A: No. Not Jyotish, no. I didn't believe Jyotish on anything on that.
Interveiwer: That he didn't know what a swami was?
Juror A: That was a crock. I mean, that was ludicrous, when he said that. How can you be in a position you're in, first of all, not knowing what the Swami's doing, and secondly, not knowing what Swami is. I mean, that was ludicrous testimony, in my eyes -- I think in a lot of our eyes, the jury.
Interveiwer: What did you think of XX?
Juror A: XX, for some reason, I felt a little sorry for. Somehow, and I don't know why, there was just something about him. I think XX is -- I saw him as a victim. I think he's been involved in the organization for a long, long time, and because of his association for a long time with Swami and Jyotish and the group, he's kind of gotten himself into a position that -- you know, this is just my own opinion, but -- where he's become a victim of this. He doesn't really want anything to be wrong with Ananda, so he's being protective of it. But I get the feeling it wouldn't be his choice to deceive anybody. And that's just kind of an intuition that I got out of his testimony. And I kind of felt sorry for him, because it's like, "Oh my God, I'm losing something that I've spent my life on, and I didn't mean to do anything wrong, but --" Much more so from him than from either X or X who got this wall that they put up and this defense that 'we've done nothing wrong.' Totally different demeanor and attitude with them.
Interveiwer: What did you think of Asha?
Juror A: She had a real attitude kind of thing. In her presence.
Interveiwer: An attitude of -- ?
Juror A: Arrogance. Protective of her position. "Everybody else is wrong, we're right."
Interveiwer: When Devi showed that film about Ananda, what did you think of that?
Juror A: I thought I was at one of those properties that have sales pitches kind of thing. I expected to walk out with a set of luggage or something. I felt like we'd all be walking out with our sets of luggage -- sign on the dotted line.
Interveiwer: Do you think Swami Kriyananda told any truth? Do you think he was lying, covering up?
Juror A: I think he was covering up. I think he was lying. I think he stretched the truth. I think there were aspects that were truthful in there that he stretched to make himself look -- to present himself in a different way. And I think the bottom line is that it's a lie. I think his whole life is a lie. And I think that came across to me as I listened to him.
Interveiwer: Do you think he should apologize, to the women or to Ananda?
Juror A: I think if he apologized, it wouldn't mean a damn thing. Because I don't think he could be sincere about apologizing. What good would that do? Everything else he's done -- He's manipulated with words. He is so good with words, that an apology would be worth s---. And you can quote me on that one.
Interveiwer: Do you think the leadership should apologize?
Juror A: Yes. I think the leadership should apologize to the community, but more importantly, the leadership should change. Not necessarily the players -- that might be good, if the players changed. But certainly the behavior of those players should change. If they want their community to continue, they better shape up, or else -- they run the risk of losing it. Who's going to want to join something like that?
Interveiwer: What changes do you think Ananda should make?
Juror A: I think, first of all, clean up the books. Have a little bit more equity in the kinds of employment and positions. Treating people like human beings instead of slaves. Taking the Swami out of the picture.
Interveiwer: Do you think the ministers should develop a code of ethics?
Juror A: Oh, absolutely. I think there should be a clear set of steps. If anything should happen, I think it should be talked about in the community. I think it should be something that -- People should have an awareness of inappropriate behaviors....Not to punish, but to stop. That's the bottom line. It's not the punishment. It's the stopping of those behaviors.
Interveiwer: On the Ananda phone hotline, Ananda leadership would say, "Our witnesses were very powerful."
Juror A: I found very little power in their witnesses. Very little. And I think they were deceiving the community. I think they've got all these people living in a delusional world. And they're fostering it.
Interveiwer: Do you think there is anything that Ananda should do or say for the other women who were abused by Swami Kriyananda?
Juror A: I think it would be nice if something could come towards these other women, especially the ones who risked, by coming out and being on the stand. It would be nice if something came toward them. Some sort of compensation. Some sort of damage compensation.
...As for the women who have come forward, I think that was only the tip of the iceberg. That's what I feel, definitely. I think it was definitely a problem that [Swami Kriyananda] has, and was probably a carry-through for most of his adult life...
Interveiwer: Do you think some of the Ananda leaders should be removed from their positions?
Juror A: Yeah, I do. I think changing the leadership would be a good thing, periodically. ...Having a democracy where you voted people in periodically, like a presidency -- every four years you have an opportunity for change, and no longer than eight years. Something to that effect. It seems to me it would provide more balance and more room for other people to dance.
Interveiwer: If you were an Ananda member, what would you do about the present situation? Leave? Stay and fight?
Juror A: ....If you've been there a while, and this is your life, it's your home, then maybe fighting would be the best alternative....
Interveiwer: Was there anything that most struck you about Ananda's presentation?
Juror A: Well, there were some bizarre things, and I think it had something to do with their behavior around Swami, the fact that they protected him so much. It was kind of off-center, as far as norms go in my mind. They just looked like some normal folks. And I think that many of them really are very normal, average folks. Living a life, making a living. Running true to their religious beliefs.
Interveiwer: Any last thoughts on Swami Kriyananda? JM had said that he opened up to her unlike he did to anyone else.
Juror A: Yeah, right. Right. I don't think we saw that at all. I think we saw the leader, the special one, somebody that was up on a pedestal. I think that's all we saw. I don't think we saw a human side to him at all. In my opinion. And I think -- I had a hard time with that. If any time would be the time to come down off your pedestal and approach a group of people as a human being, this would be it. And I didn't see that.
[Juror A: confirmed that she thinks Swami Kriyananda is a narcissist, and can't feel empathy for others.]
Interveiwer: What would you like to say to Swami?
Juror A: "Where do you get off thinking that you're so special?"
Interveiwer: What message did you hope to communicate to Ananda by your verdict?
Juror A: "Shape up."
Interveiwer: What message did you hope to communicate to the larger society?
Juror A: "Watch out for people in positions of power, and inappropriate behaviors of people in positions of power." The Pamela Cooper-White message [imbalance of power between clergy and parishioners; Swami is a narcissist and a patterned sexual predator] probably is the message [of the trial], what people need to be aware of.
OTHER QUOTES FROM JUROR A:
"I felt no bias against the religious group. It wouldn't have been my choice [of religious group] but if somebody else wants to do that with their life, fine."
"I think that people [on the jury] felt very strongly about the fact that these [Ananda] people had a right to their religion, and that this was not up to us. But the taking advantage of individuals was inappropriate."
"I didn't believe that it [the trial] was an SRF thing at all."
"They [the attorneys] didn't stress the word 'cult.'"
"Because of the illusion that he [Swami Kriyananda] has given about his own superiority, he oversteps everyone else's boundaries."
"They [Ananda people] can easily say that they don't condone it [sexual harassment or sexual abuse], but do they turn their backs and close their eyes if they know it's happening?....You can SAY that you don't condone it, but if you aren't doing anything about it, then it's...kind of like lying by omission."
"The only women who were powerful were married to men who were also in leadership positions...And I think about the rest of you, who were just a bunch of...you're like scullery maids running around, to serve Swami and the powers that be, in my opinion."