Jury Acquits Two in Deprogramming Case

But jurors fail to reach agreement on 3rd defendant's role in kidnapping

The Idaho Statesman/April 24, 1993
by Melanie Threlkeld

Two defendants in the LaVerne Collins Macchio deprogramming trial were acquitted Friday of aiding and abetting Macchio's kidnapping.

Jurors couldn't agree on the charges against a third defendant, Mary Alice Chrnalogar.

Defendants Joseph Szimhart and Kenneth J. Paolini exhaled loudly and looked at the ceiling as 4th District Judge Alan M. Schwartzman read the verdicts. Macchio wept.

Schwartzman declared a mistrial in Chrnalogar's case after a jury could not agree whether Chrnalogar was innocent or guilty of charges that she held kidnap Macchio for her Boise home on Nov. 20, 1991, to deprogram her of her belief in the Church Universal and Triumphant.

Defense attorney Lawrence Levy said he believed Chrnalogar wasn't acquitted because she was the first person to get involved in Macchio's deprogramming.

The defendants are professional deprogrammers hired by Macchio's mother, LaVerne Coelho, to break Macchio's allegiance to the Montana-based religious sect. Coelho and Macchio's sister, Patricia Cox, were arrested on kidnapping charges. The charges later were dropped.

Ada County Prosecutor Roger Bourne said he has not decided whether he will seek a new trial in the case of Chrnaloger, 38, of Tennessee.

Macchio refused to speak to reporters after the verdict. But in the news release issued by the church, she said, "It's a sad day for America that these people have a license to go out and kidnap you and hold you against your will because of the way you chose to worship God."

Defense attorneys argued throughout the two-week-long trial that the church uses mind control to attract and keep members.

Szimhart, 45, of Pennsylvania, and Paolini, 36, of Montana, said they would continue working as deprogrammers, but not in cases that involve kidnapping. "What pulls on you," Paolini said, "is when a parent calls and says, 'I'm desperate.'"

End Note: no charges were ever refiled on Mary Alice Chrnaloger.

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