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Cult Leader Convicted of Killing Family of 5 Executed in Ohio

Jeffrey Lundgren claimed the divine drove him to murder, and that his extreme weight would make his execution a cruel and unusual punishment.

In the end, though, neither God nor the courts would spare Lundgren from lethal injection.

Ohio executed the self-proclaimed religious prophet Tuesday for the brutal 1989 slayings of a Kirtland, Ohio, family of five that Lundgren said he killed because God spoke to him and said they weren't enthusiastic enough about his teachings.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati issued an order late Monday allowing the execution to go forward, overturning a lower court ruling that would have delayed the sentence to allow Lundgren, a 275-pound diabetic, to join a lawsuit challenging Ohio's use of lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment.

Lundgren was convicted of killing, one-by-one, Dennis Avery, 49; his wife, Cheryl, 46; and their daughters, Trina, 15; Rebecca, 13; and, 7-year-old Karen.

"I profess my love for God, my family, for my children, for Kathy [Lendgren's wife]. I am because you are," he said in his final statement. Lundgren married Kathy after the killings.

Lundgren, 56, was pronounced dead at 10:26 a.m. ET at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.

At his 1990 trial, Lundgren told the jury he was a prophet of God and therefore not worthy of the death penalty.

"It's not a figment of my imagination that I can in fact talk to God, that I can hear his voice," he told jurors. "I am a prophet of God. I am even more than a prophet."

According to news reports, Lundgren moved to Kirtland in 1984, to work in the temple of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the Community of Christ. That group split with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints following the death of its founder, Joseph Smith. The RLDS dismissed Lundgren as a lay minister in 1987.

Lundgren formed his own splinter group, which attracted about 20 members, including the Averys, who moved to Kirtland from Missouri in 1987 to follow his teachings, many of which were contingent on revelations Lundgren said came from God.

Lundgren said God commanded him, through interpretation of Scriptures, to kill the Avery family for their lack of faith. Lundgren arranged a dinner hosted by cult members in 1989. Afterward, he and his followers led the Avery family members one by one — Dennis first, Karen last — to their deaths in a pit in a barn.

Each was bound, and Lundgren shot each victim two or three times. A chain saw was used to muffle the gunfire while remaining Avery family members cleaned up after dinner.

Lundgren argued his execution had more of a chance of being painful because he was diabetic and overweight at 275 pounds. The U.S. Supreme Court refused a last-minute request to stop his execution, and Gov. Bob Taft denied clemency.

Shunts for the injections, which prison staff had trouble inserting in a previous execution, were in Lundgren's arms when he was brought into the execution chamber. He did not move as the lethal drugs were administered.

Cheryl Avery's brother, Donald Bailey, stood up and approached the window in the death chamber as Lundgren was brought in.

"I wanted him to know I was there," he said. Another of Cheryl Avery's brothers, Kent Clisby, also watched the execution.

No one witnessed the execution for Lundgren, and he did not acknowledge the presence of any of the witnesses.

U.S. Rep. Steven LaTourette, who prosecuted the case and witnessed the execution, said he didn't take any pleasure in seeing Lundgren die. He said he can't get the scene of the murder out of his mind and that he had hoped there would be no children as the bodies were being unburied.

"Those of us who were in the barn remembered it was the parents first, then the children," he said.

Over the years 40 judges have reviewed Lundgren's appeals. The appeals court gave no reason for allowing the execution.

"It blows my mind that they lifted the stay at the 11th hour as they have," Lundgren's attorney James A. Jenkins said. "I'm flabbergasted."

Some cult members moved into a rented farmhouse with Lundgren, calling him dad, sharing their paychecks and attending his classes.

The upshot of his teaching: Jesus would return to earth only when the Kirtland Temple he had been dismissed from was recaptured.

He told the jury the spiritually unclean had to be dealt with and referred to the killings as "pruning the vineyard."

Lundgren was careful to make sure no one would be looking for the Averys. Before the murders, he directed Cheryl Avery to write to her family and inform them that they were moving to Wyoming and would provide contact information when they got settled.

The case was cracked eight months later when a dissident cult member, upset that his wife had been selected to become Lundgren's second wife, tipped off authorities. On Jan. 4, 1990, the bodies were found.

Thirteen cult members were charged in the case, including Lundgren's wife, Alice, now 55, and their son, Damon, now 35, both serving life prison terms.

Police Sgt. Ronald Andolsek, who as a patrolman led the investigation into the cult killings, compared Lundgren's mind-control tactics to that used by other cult leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones and Charles Manson. "They used the same methods on their followers," Andolsek said. "Jeff wasn't the first. He won't be the last."

In the hours before the execution, Lundgren's attorney woke him in the early morning for an update on the case, then he went back to sleep for a while. He then watched television, read the Bible and ate a breakfast of Rice Krispies cereal, pancakes, fruit juice and milk.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.