Jury Deadlocks In Favor Of Acquittal In Sale Of Gold

A federal-court jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquittal, in the case of a man accused of stealing six gold bars from his former lover - a wealthy devotee of JZ Knight, the Yelm woman who claims to be in touch with a 35,000 year-old-warrior spirit, Ramtha.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein declared a mistrial yesterday after the presiding juror said it would be useless for the eight-man, four-woman jury to continue deliberating.

One of the jurors said the defense had established reasonable doubt on the central question of whether the defendant, Peter Westberg, believed he had authority to dispose of the gold as he saw fit.

Noting that only Westberg, 44, and the alleged victim, 50-year-old Gabriele Copen, knew where the gold was buried, the juror said that ``he would have been the only one to know (where the gold was) if she had expired.''

He said jurors didn't necessarily buy Westberg's testimony that he converted the gold to cash for a purpose Copen had agreed to: the construction of secret underground bunkers in which he, Copen and other Ramtha followers could live when reptilian-type creatures invade the Earth. The project was later abandoned when the media and Thurston County officials found out about it.

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.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Whalley, who prosecuted Westberg said no decision on whether to retry him would be made before next week.

But Michael Martin, chief assistant federal public defender, said the 11-1 split in favor of acquittal constituted ``awfully strong reason'' not to prosecute again.

Westberg and Copen, who lived as husband and wife, moved to a farm in Tenino that Copen purchased for about $1 million. In part, Copen acknowledged, she chose to move there to be close to JZ Knight.

Copen lavished Westberg with gifts, including cash, credit cards, clothing, a $34,000 racehorse and use of a $46,000 Jaguar. The penniless Westberg had served a prison term for failure to file an income-tax return. At the time he met Copen, who estimated her worth at $8 million, he owed the IRS more than $113,000, a debt she paid.

Westberg testified he took the bars, worth about $12,000 each, after a JZKnight/Ramtha seminar last November when it was revealed an invasion was imminent, and only believers with at least two years' provisions would survive.

Westberg testified he started souring on JZKnight/Ramtha after a seminar last November when ``he/she'' (JZ/Ramtha) threatened anyone who disclosed information about the digging-in would ``burn like an ember.''

The prosecutor, however, said Westberg hired others to sell the gold and ordered that the transaction be kept secret.

``His (Westberg's) actions eliminate any possibility that he was acting with her (Copen's) permission,'' Whalley told jurors.