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Jury Finds Men Innocent In ‘Moonie’ Kidnap Case

November 5, 1988

DENVER (AP) _ Two men were acquitted Friday on kidnapping and conspiracy charges in the abduction of a Unification Church member who was held captive for a week and subjected to ″deprogramming″ sessions.

Dennis Whelan, 53, of Omaha, Neb., and Robert Brandyberry, 41, of Columbus, Ohio, were acquitted after six hours of deliberation.

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.

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

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.

″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 ended in divorce in 1985.

Prosecutors argued Whelan, a private detective, and Brandyberry, a deprogrammer and ex-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.

″This case revolves around freedom of thought,″ Chief Deputy District Attorney Diane Balkin said in her closing statement Wednesday. ″Her parents did not have the right to try to force her to change her beliefs no matter how much they were against it.″

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.

Defense attorneys said she was well-treated during her abduction and denied claims she was physically and psychologically tortured.

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 member of the Unification Church.

Unification Church President Mose Durst said the judge made an error 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.