Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pastor Luke Lee ‘New Zealand’s Fatal Exorcist’

Luke Lee (a.k.a Yong Bum Lee) arrived in New Zealand from Korea in 1994, leaving behind his wife and children, and a chequered business career back in Seoul.

He was able to gain entry into New Zealand on a student visa, studying at the Assemblies of God Advanced Ministry of Training Centre in Auckland.

It was at the Assemblies of God Training Centre he meet and married, Korean New Zealander Joyce Lee in 1996.

After completing his training Lee headed to London for six months, and then returned to Korea where he faced an historic conviction for fraud, and was imprisoned for a year.

It was in his prison cell that ‘God spoke to him’ and upon his release he obeyed the voices in his head, which called him to return to New Zealand, specifically Mt Roskill.

Now an Assemblies of God pastor he founded the Lord of All Church, which attracted a meager & motley following , comprising mostly Koreans, and a number of homeless gathered-up from down-town Auckland streets.

The Assemblies of God were evidently not picky who they ordained, and the petty criminal Lee’s idiosyncratic and delusional behaviour were interpreted by those from the church who monitored probationary pastors as being merely ‘over zealous’.

Originally Lee was assisted by another pastor, Michael Hamilton, but he left Lord of All in January 2000, and reported his concerns to Church hierarchy, including importantly Lee’s propensity for over-vigorous physical intervention.

One of these members of his church was the quite and introverted 37-year old Joanna Lee (no relation to Lee and also known as Keum Ok Lee ) A loner with no known relatives, Joanna had known Lee and had belonged to a similar Christian cult back in Korea.

Exorcisms were a regular activity at Lord of All Ministry, which ran from Luke Lees suburban Auckland home. At one stage Lee and his band of followers, performed them in the Diocesan School for Girls' hall where the church meetings were originally held.

These exorcisms were noisy and prolonged affairs, which became the bane of Lees neighbours. Lee’s favourite instrument, a whistle, served the dual purposes of organising his group like sheep-dogs and confronting demons. A strange dualism.

On the night of Saturday 9th December 2000, just six weeks after she joined the church, Pastor Luke Lee undertook the exorcism of Joanne Lee on his lounge floor. Pastor Lee Luke later claimed Joanna was inhabited by 20 demons (or ‘evil ghosts’) and failure to excommunicate the demons would have resulted in her ultimate demise. It was clear to others in the church Joanna was infatuated with the pastor and she may have seen this process as a way to become closer to him and for him to return her adoration.

In keeping with previous exorcisms members beat drums, blew horns, and chanted incantations around Joanna Lee as she lay on a mattress on the floor. Pastor Lee also had it in his head, that demons resided in a victim’s stomach, and the best way to chase them out was the ‘direct route’ – that’s to say jumping on the subject’s stomach.

After Lee had sat-on, jumped-on, thumped Joanna’s prone torso he then changed tacks and decided the demons had migrated upwards to Joanna’s throat. His method to dislodging the pesky demon was again the most direct & ‘hands-on’ – strangulation.

At this point of the exorcism Joanna realised she was fighting for her life. But rather than ceasing proceedings, her survival struggles and yells of “no,no,no” were interpreted by Lee and his followers as demonic utterances. They held her writhing body down instead.

Shortly after, Joanna, blood running from her mouth, ceased breathing.

An autopsy showed she had died of strangulation as well as suffering an broken sternum , broken ribs and multiple internal injuries.

Joanna’s lack of vital-signs seems to have escaped Pastor Lee and his followers.

Now late at night Lee himself trotted up-stairs to bed with his wife, others who were present went off home and some dosed-down in the lounge.

In the morning they were all back in Pastors Lee’s lounge for the normal Sunday Service, along with the corpse of Joanna Lee.

As morbid as it sounds Pastor Lee and the followers carried on as if nothing untoward had occurred, intermittingly praying for Joanna Lees resurrection. For five days the members of The Lord of All Church danced, quoted from the bible and blew into the deceased mouth, awaiting her return from the dead.

On the 6th day members said they saw the fingers on her blackening, decomposing body move and her skin lighten (in reality what they were observing was her outer skin was peeling off)

Believing a momentous miracle was occurring in his flat, Pastor Lee then started to video proceedings so the world would have the evidence of Amanda Lee’s resurrection.

Lee also wanted a neutral witness to this resurrection so a sympathetic neighbour, Edwin Muir, was summoned to his flat to represent the rest of humanity, outside the two dozen members of his church.

Instead of starring in wonder at the miracle taking place on Lee’s lounge-floor, having smelt the stench & viewed the fly-blown body, a horrified Muir quickly left the flat and phoned the police.

Police arrived at Maryland Drive address on December 15th and were told by Lee that Joanna Lee had been sick and was sleeping. Despite the obvious state of the body by this stage (remember this was summer) the pastor insisted police had made a mistake in thinking she was dead."You must give us the opportunity to pray for Joanna," not for the first time Lee told police, or anyone else in hearing range.

"We are innocent. God knows. If we pray, Joanna will come back. God knows."

Pastor Lee was arrested and charged with Joanna Lee’s man-slaughter.

At Lee’s trial he insisted on representing himself on the basis that ‘God had told him’ and his belief that Joanna would come back to life anyway, and he would be vindicated.

Outside of the Auckland court room Lee’s profound repeated announcements, to enthralled media that the deceased would rise from the dead became the topic of many work lunch-rooms chats and the butt of pub jokes.

The only defense he offered at his closing trial was his ‘rambling’ tear-filled closing statement where again he repeated claims Joanna would rise from the dead, even offering the jury a time and date - midnight on the evening of Sunday 9 December 2001.

Needless to say, the prophetic date passed without a beep from Joanna Lee, little wonder since she had been cremated 12 months earlier.

By now the once staunch membership of The Lord of All church all but deserted ‘the great leader’ and at his sentencing (6 years for manslaughter) the only ones at his side were his wife and daughter.

After hearing the harrowing evidence the judge excused the jurors from service for another three years. Part of the evidence was the horrific video taken of the proceedings.

"The particular concern I have Mr Lee, is that your charisma and the cult-like sway you hold on your followers, suggest that when you are released from prison, you will continue to be a risk to the public," said High Court Judge Justice Paterson.

In jail for the second time & now with legal representation Lee appealed his sentence, citing the freedom of religion & Joanna’s right to consent to the exorcism.

Lee’s appeal case argued consenting to an exorcism was no different than getting cosmetic surgery - the patient must weigh the risks up and measure them against the outcome.

As suprising as it sounds The New Zealand Court of Appeal (2005) accepted his councils arguments, that Joanna Lee has been aware of the dangers involved in the proceedings that lead to her untimely death, having been present at prior exorcisms held by Lee.

A re-trial was ordered but the time of this successful appeal, Lee had been released early from his sentence & was returned to Korea.

Not only was Lees deportation an obstacle for a re-trial, there was also the logistical issues for Police Prosecutors locating the witness’s and members of his church, virtually all of whom had returned to Korea as well.

By no means is this fatal exorcism an apparition.

This case is but the third of four publicised fatal exorcisms, that have occurred in New Zealand in the last 25 years.

I’ll cover the other three when I get a chance.

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