Local News

Case dismissed against woman accused in cult crimes

Posted January 29, 2009 10:19 a.m. EST
Updated January 29, 2009 6:01 p.m. EST

— The case against a Durham woman accused of aiding in crimes that authorities say were carried out by a satanic cult was effectively dismissed Thursday when a judge denied a request to delay the case.

Dianna Palmer, 44, of Cottage Woods Court, was charged in July with one count of accessory after the fact of assault with a deadly weapon.

Police said Palmer knew about assaults alleged to have occurred in a residence on Albany Street in Durham and said she helped Joseph Scott Craig remove evidence from the house.

Craig, 25, and his wife, Joy Johnson, 30, were arrested in June after a man and a woman told authorities they were beaten, shackled to beds, kept in dog cages and starved.

Prosecutors have said the man and a woman met Craig through a shared interest in Satan worship, but that they never consented to physical abuse.

Palmer and Johnson knew each other through the Durham County Democratic Party. Before they resigned their positions last year, Palmer was the party's first vice-chair, and Johnson was the third vice-chair, as well as the vice-chair of the Young Democrats.

Prosecutors asked Thursday for a continuance in Palmer's case, but defense attorney Bill Thomas objected, saying the case had dragged on for more than six months.

District Judge Nancy Gordon denied the continuance, effectively dismissing the case.

It was unclear why prosecutors sought the delay. They could revive the case if a grand jury were to indict Palmer on the accessory charge.

Because of Palmer's and Johnson's Democratic Party ties – Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline is a Democrat – prosecutors have discussed handing off the case to the state Attorney General's Office. They haven't made a formal request to do so, however, said Noelle Talley, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office.

Craig and Johnson operate a business called Indigo Dawn Inc. that is described on a Web site as a spiritual growth service offering "past-life reconstruction" and "communication with spirit guides." The site talks about Johnson's activism and describes Craig as a reverend and a "devout student of magick."

Craig was charged with three counts of second-degree kidnapping, two counts of assault with a deadly weapon and one count each of second-degree rape and second-degree forcible sex offense. Johnson was charged with two counts of aiding and abetting.

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez has been questioned in the case. Lopez visited Craig's and Johnson's home at least once for a social gathering, sources told WRAL News, but it's unclear whether he would be called as a witness at trial.

No court dates have been set for either Craig or Johnson.