SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS
ANANDA CHURCH SEX CASE GOES TO JURY
LAWYERS SUM UP ARGUMENTS AFTER 3-MONTH TRIAL
Thursday, January 29, 1998
BY MINAL HAJRATWALA, Mercury News Staff Writer
Memo: Mercury News Staff Writer Deborah Kong contributed to this story.
The man his followers call Swami Kriyananda listened with a
calmness befitting a spiritual leader Wednesday as lawyers summed up three months' worth of often-graphic testimony in a case that could financially devastate his worldwide empire of New Age communities.
San Mateo County jury of seven women and five men will begin deliberations today in Redwood City on whether J. Donald Walters, 71, and his Ananda Church of Self-Realization created a climate not of
meditative tranquillity but of sexual coercion and fraud, in which he and his ministers preyed on female devotees who came to them in search of God and left ''emotionally shattered,'' lawyer Michael Flynn
But defense attorney Gordon Rockhill argued that plaintiff Anne-Marie Bertolucci ''knew exactly what was going on'' when she began seeing a married Ananda minister. Rockhill read from a November 1993
letter in which Bertolucci apologized to Walters for the affair, writing, ''I felt hopelessly and deeply in love. . . . I just ask that you pray for me.''
''The human animal has a tremendous capacity for
rationalization,'' Rockhill said. ''They craved one another. . . . Then she cries foul.'' If at least nine jurors determine Bertolucci was wronged by the church and its officials, a penalty phase would begin in which,
Bertolucci's lawyers said, she may ask for up to $10 million. Bertolucci is suing Walters, the church and minister Daniel Levin. Levin's dramatic testimony captivated the courtroom earlier this month when he
wept on the stand and repeatedly professed his continuing love for Bertolucci.
Bertolucci said Levin, vice president of the church's publishing company, where she worked, preyed on her over a period
When she went to Walters for help, she testified, she ended up watching a movie with an oral sex scene and being offered a neck massage during which her head ended up in Walters' lap.
Eventually, she said, she lost her job and was expelled from Ananda Village, a cluster of 350 wood-shingled homes on 900 acres just below the snow line in Nevada City. She had moved there six years ago, at age 28, after
taking meditation classes at Ananda's Palo Alto church.
But Rockhill sought to draw a portrait of Bertolucci as a ''woman of some experience'' who sought to blame Levin for the secret affair only after he
decided to return to his wife. He said Walters and other church leaders worked to end the affair as soon as they learned of it, giving Bertolucci a higher-paying job in a different Ananda Village office. When that
proved insufficient, they offered her work at other Ananda communities.
Bertolucci shook her head at Rockhill's version of events, writing notes to her lawyers and wiping away tears during his 2 1/2-hour
Walters, who had been tending to matters at Ananda's retreat in Italy throughout much of the trial, returned only to watch its final stages. He appeared relaxed, smiling as he shook hands and talked
with about 30 supporters at breaks and the end of the day.
During the trial, Bertolucci's lawyers sought to establish a pattern of sexual abuse, calling nearly a dozen women to testify they had sexual relations
Flynn urged the jury to take action to ''stop the fraud. Just stop it.'' He said Bertolucci would never have joined the community had she known that Walters -- a swami who had taken monastic
vows, including celibacy -- had a ''30-year history of sexual predatoriness.''
Rockhill disputed that characterization, saying Walters told Ananda followers in 1981 that he was no longer a celibate swami when he
entered a ''spiritual marriage'' with a devotee. Walters admitted in court to episodes of ''sexual weakness'' but said the incidents were consensual.