Don't Belittle Space Aliens, Judge Warns At Theft Trial -- Millionaire Presses Odd Case Of Missing Gold

A millionaire devotee of JZ Knight - the Yelm woman who claims to be in touch with a 35,000-year-old-spirit named Ramtha - has testified she never gave permission to her former companion to sell her gold bars to build an underground shelter.

Yesterday's testimony by Gabrielle Copen came in the stolen-property trial of Peter Westberg. He is accused of stealing several 1-kilogram gold bars, worth an estimated $12,000 each. The two had buried the gold on a farm Copen bought for $1 million in Tenino, Thurston County.

The trial has become a window on the teachings of Ramtha, a warrior spirit.

Defense attorney Michael Martin admits Westberg took the gold. But he insists Copen knew he was using the proceeds to build a shelter in which the two, and other Ramtha followers, could live when the earth is invaded by aliens.

In rulings outside the presence of jurors, U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein has severely limited what lines of inquiry Martin may pursue, saying she doesn't wish to make Copen's beliefs, and those of other government witnesses who follow Ramtha teachings, the subject of ridicule.

JZ Knight is a ``channeler'' who claims to have met Ramtha, an ancient wise man, in her kitchen in Tacoma in 1977. Knight says Ramtha speaks through her, imparting his views on present and future events. She has attracted a large group of followers, including TV stars Dennis Weaver of ``Gunsmoke'' fame, and Linda Evans of ``Dynasty''.

The judge said she would not allow Martin to get into details contained a brief describing the expected invasion, the nature of the aliens who are supposed to be half-human and half-lizard, how they plan to arrive, and ``where the spaceship is parked.''

However, Martin was free to question Copen about Ramtha teachings to build the shelters, or ``dig in,'' in case of catastrophe.

Copen admitted she had authorized spending about $63,000 to build such a shelter but bagged the project ``because the secrecy of it was revealed to the press.''

Copen also denied that she ever had direct or indirect messages from Ramtha that Westberg ``had to be in jail'' because he had rejected the teachings or disclosed secret details revealed at Ramtha seminars.

The reason Westberg walked out on her, Copen testified, was because he had a ``serious gambling problem.'' He had become ``quite depressed,'' she said, after officials asked him to leave a race track and he no longer could be involved with race horses.

Copen testified she discovered the theft after speaking with a man through whom Westberg had arranged to sell several bars of gold. The man, William Knight, no relation to JZ Knight, testified he believed the bars belonged to Westberg.

Even after she discovered the theft, Copen testified, she thought twice about reporting it because she still cared for Westberg.

Copen, who testified she is worth about $8 million, said she met Westberg through a mutual friend in Virginia in the spring of 1989. She acknowledged that he moved in with her shortly after they met and that she gave him his own credit cards, cash and access to a checking account.

She also testified that she insisted on a palimony agreement and maintained control of finances. Asked if it were true that she referred to Westberg as ``king'' and ``emperor,'' Copen said she called him ``Toots.''

Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Whalley, who is prosecuting Westberg, said Copen bought 44 gold bars for more than $500,000 in the spring of 1989. A total of 17 gold bars were taken, and five remain unaccounted for, Whalley said.

The federal charges result from two occasions when Westberg arranged for the sale of a total of six gold bars across state lines. The case could go to the jury today.