Woman charged in ambush of commune leader pleads not guilty

Associated Press/July 7, 2007
By Tom Hays

New York -- When commune leader Jeff Gross came home from a movie one night last year, a former member of his group was waiting for him with a loaded gun, prosecutors say.

Rebekah Johnson, who had reviled Gross and the Ganas community on her Web site, shot him five times, according to an indictment unsealed Friday as Johnson pleaded not guilty to attempted murder, assault and weapons charges.

Johnson was ordered held without bail. If convicted of attempted murder, she faces up to 25 years in prison, prosecutors said.

Johnson, 44, was captured last month in Philadelphia, having been on the run since the shooting on Staten Island on May 29, 2006. She had been featured five times on Fox's "America's Most Wanted."

"The combined efforts of law enforcement agencies across the country, as well as continuing media attention, ensured that this case would not fade from memory and Ms. Johnson would not elude justice," District Attorney Daniel Donovan said in a statement.

Johnson's attorney did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

Gross, who survived the shooting, is a founder of the Ganas community. It has about 80 members, who share eight homes, generally paying $700 a month for room and board. The group promotes environmentalism, diversity and problem-solving, according to its Web site.

Johnson lived with the Ganas community from 1986 to 1990, then from 1994 to 1996, before being kicked out, according to neighbors and commune members. On her own Web site, she had accused Gross of misdeeds and Ganas of being an evil cult.

Gross has said Johnson had been stalking him.

After dodging investigators for more than a year, Johnson made the mistake of using her real name to register a used car she bought on the online clearinghouse Craigslist for $1,100, authorities said. Police arrested her without incident on June 18 as she exited an elevated train she had taken to pick up the car.

A search of Johnson's small apartment on a seedy street in North Philadelphia turned up an AK-47 assault rifle and 1,000 rounds of ammunition, police said.

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