CA judge OKs continued use of Jonestown memorial

AP News
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Posted: May 26, 2011 7:21 PM
CA judge OKs continued use of Jonestown memorial

A judge on Thursday denied a motion seeking to block further use of a newly completed memorial to the victims of the 1978 mass murder and suicide at Jonestown _ a tribute that has sparked controversy because it includes the name of Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones among the 917 other people who died.

The ruling by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert McGuiness will allow Oakland's Evergreen Cemetery to host a planned dedication ceremony Sunday at the site, where more than 400 unidentified and unclaimed victims are buried in a mass grave.

Organizers, including Jones' adopted son, expect several hundred people to gather to see the $45,000 memorial, which consists of four large slabs of granite embedded in the ground and etched with the names of the dead.

"It's not about individual opinions, it's about a memorial and people having a private place of remembrance," Jim Jones Jr. said of the project he helped commission last August.

Jynona Norwood, a Los Angeles minister who lost 27 relatives at Jonestown, filed a lawsuit May 12 against Evergreen Cemetery, its president Buck Kamphausen, and its director Ron Haulman, accusing them of violating an agreement with her for an alternative memorial that would not include the name of Jim Jones.

She began raising money for that nearly $100,000 project in 1993 through her nonprofit Guyana Tribute Foundation. She said she made a $30,000 initial payment several years ago to begin its construction off-site and planned to later move it to the cemetery.

Norwood said the new memorial sends a message that "it is OK to honor a mass murderer." She compared including the name of Jones to having the name Osama bin Laden on a Sept. 11 memorial.

"It's a shame and an atrocity," she said. "I have 27 people in the ground because of this man."

In ruling against a preliminary injunction, Judge McGuiness said denying access to the memorial would cause substantial harm to those who wish to gather there to honor the victims, as well as to those who contributed to it, including the families of about 120 victims.

After more than 32 years of waiting for a proper memorial, any further delay "would continue to expose the victims and families of Jonestown to a continuing paralytic state of inaction," the judge wrote.

Steven Gurnee, an attorney representing Evergreen Cemetery, acknowledged McGuiness was faced with a difficult decision, but said he made the right choice.

"In the end, the court was sensitive to everyone's feelings but realized an injunctive order of this type would create far more problems than it would resolve," Gurnee said.

Jones Jr. said the memorial represents the truth of what happened on Nov. 18, 1978, in Guyana.

"Once history has been established, you can't change it, and the history is that 918 people died in a horrific event," he said. "We need to move past accusations and faults and back to healing for everyone."

U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan of California, three newsmen and a church defector were ambushed and killed on a remote jungle airstrip by temple gunmen while visiting Jonestown on a fact-finding mission to investigate reports of abuses of members.

Jones then orchestrated a ritual of mass murder and suicide at the temple's nearby agricultural commune. The dead included 305 children, 17 of whom were members of Norwood's extended family, she said.

Thursday's ruling settles only part of Norwood's legal challenge. Her lawsuit also seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Attorneys for both sides are scheduled to confer with McGuiness by phone Tuesday to set a settlement conference date.