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Jury Finds Men Innocent In ‘Moonie’ Kidnap Case

November 5, 1988

DENVER (AP) _ Two men acquitted of kidnapping and conspiracy charges for abducting a Unification Church member and trying to ″deprogram″ her were relieved by the verdict and said they would continue to work with cult members.

″I think (the verdict) is telling people there is such a thing as coercive persuasion and saying people have the right to religious freedom. Cults take those rights away from people,″ said Dennis Whelan, 53, of Omaha, Neb.

He and Robert Brandyberry, 41, of Columbus, Ohio, were acquitted Friday after six hours of deliberation.

Brandyberry, who cried after the verdict, and Whelan said they would continue their work in some way.

Using the rare ″choice-of-evils″ defense, the men contended their actions were permissible because they intended to ″rescue″ the woman from a greater evil, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.

They were charged with second-degree kidnapping and conspiracy in the May 26, 1987, abduction of Britta Adolfsson, 30, from a Denver street. The defendants had faced two to eight years in prison for kidnapping and one to four years for conspiracy.

″This is a rescue, ladies and gentlemen, not a kidnapping,″ Whelan’s attorney, James Martin Davis, said in closing arguments Thursday. ″What Denny and Bob did was a necessary emergency measure to avoid permanent injury.″

Tord and Margit Adolfsson, the woman’s parents, paid the defendants about $8,000 to abduct and deprogram their daughter because they thought she was going to South Korea to participate in a second ″mass marriage.″ The Swedish woman’s 1982 marriage, performed during a mass wedding ceremony by the church, ended in divorce in 1985.

Deprogramming entails persuading a person to abandon rigid commitment to certain values or beliefs of a cult by undoing the effects of indoctrination.

Prosecutors argued that Whelan, a private detective, and Brandyberry, a deprogrammer and ex-Unification Church leader, were motivated by money and hatred for the organization. Moreover, the defendants created the ″emergency″ by playing on the family’s unfounded fear that the woman was being brainwashed and on the brink of marriage, they said.

Jeffrey Pagliuca, Brandyberry’s lawyer, said Adolfsson, although 29 at the time of the abduction, was ″a naive little school girl″ when she came to the United States in 1979 as an exchange student and was lured into the cult in 1980.

Britta Adolfsson had said she was terrified by the abduction, which ended when she escaped from a Lyons, Kan., house by jumping through a second-story window. She remains a Unification Church member.

Unification Church President Mose Durst said the judge erred in allowing the case to be tried.

″To put a religion on trial is to contradict everything in the Constitution. The ramifications of this are horrible, especially for minority religions,″ Durst said.