Cult Observer Archives

The Cult Observer

November 1986


Conviction in Jonestown Murder of Rep. Ryan

From AP and the Boston Globe, December 2, 1986

Former People’s Temple members Larry Layton was convicted yesterday by a federal jury in San Francisco of conspiring in the 1978 murder of California congressman Leo Ryan. The killing precipitated the mass murder-suicide by Rev. Jim Jones’s followers at their settlement in Guyana.

Layton, 40, was also convicted of aiding and abetting in Ryan’s murder and conspiracy and aiding and abetting in the attempted murder of Richard Dwyer, a US diplomat wounded in the attack.

"This man was a killer," US Attorney Joseph Russoneillo told reporters after the verdict, who took part in the plot "because he was a believer."

The court found that Layton was involved in a plan to keep Rep. Ryan and his party from reaching the outside world with news of conditions at Jonestown. Layton admitted shooting and wounding two dissident Peoples Temple members who were trying to leave with Ryan.

The verdict, which came after 25 hours of deliberation, did not visibly upset Layton, who instead consoled his lawyers before being led away by federal marshals. The defendant, whose first trial ended in a hung jury in 1981, had been free on bail and working under an alias.

Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Peckham scheduled sentencing for January 23; the Ryan murder charges carry a maximum penalty of life in prison. Defense attorneys said that they would appeal the conviction.

Layton’s sister Debbie, whose departure from the Peoples Temple and denunciation of Jones in May 1978 led her brother to leave California to join the settlement in Guyana, sat in the front row of the courtroom sobbing, her head in her hands.


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