Nationally known cult deprogrammer Rick Ross of Phoenix has been acquitted of unlawful-imprisonment charges in Grays Harbor County Superior Court in Montesano, Washington.
Ross said he was elated with the verdict and vowed to press a malicious-prosecution suit, saying he became a cult target.
He was accused of unlawfully imprisoning Jason Scott, a member of the Life Tabernacle Church, in January 1991 in Ocean Shores, Wash.
Ross was hired by Scott's mother, Kathy Tonkin, to deprogram her son, who she believed had been brainwashed.
Tonkin, who lives in Clarksdale, Ariz., testified in Ross' behalf. Her son, who was 18 at the time of the incident, is still a member of the church, which is affiliated with the United Pentecostal Church International in Bellvue, Wash.
"Kathy was just fantastic," Ross said. "She stuck by me the whole way."
Ross also credited the eight-woman, four-man jury, which deliberated only two hours, for being able to see through the prosecution's attempts to paint him as a criminal.
"They (jury members) could see I was being railroaded," he said.
Jeff Ranes, Ross' attorney said several jury members hugged Ross after the verdict "and told him, 'We thought you did the right thing,' and, 'Keep up the good work.'"
County prosecutor Joseph Wheeler would not comment on the verdict.
"I, obviously, disagreed with the jury's verdict, but they have spoken, and that's that," he said.
Ross said he plans to file suit against Wheeler and the Grays harbor County Attorney's Office for malicious prosecution.
"It's a free country to practice your religion and you can use who you want," Wheeler responded.
Ross and Lyndon LaRouche as well as members of several religious groups, including the Church of Scientology and Life Tabernacle, were present in the courtroom when the verdict was read.
He added that he never thought his acquittal was a true thing, particularly after the judge refused to allow Ross to mention the Church of Scientology, the words "cult" and "brainwashing," or the religious convictions of the Life Tabernacle Church to be used in his defense.
However, a former Scientologist was allowed to testify and told the court that an "organization" of which he was a member had coached Scott to embellish his testimony against Ross, Ranes said.
Ross said he never attempted to deprogram anyone from Scientology because his expertise is in radical Christian-based groups. Often featured on national news programs and talk shows, Ross was a consultant for the FBI during the Branch-Dividian standoff near Waco, Texas, last year.
Scott has filed a civil suit against Ross, Charles Simpson of Phoenix and Mark Workman of Sedona , Ross said.
Simpson and Workman provided security for the attempted deprogramming of Scott. The two men pleaded guilty in Grays Harbor to misdemeanor charges of coercion, and each was sentenced to one year in prison with all but 30 days suspended.
They are to begin serving their sentences by the end of February, and could serve their time in Arizona on weekends if local authorities agree, Ranes said.