Third Arrest Made in Alleged Cult Abuse Case

July 2, 2008

[with video]

Durham, N.C. — Police charged a third person Wednesday in connection with beatings and rape that authorities say were carried out by a satanic cult.

Diana Palmer, 44, of Cottage Woods Court, surrendered to police Wednesday afternoon. She was charged with being an accessory after the fact of assault with a deadly weapon and was being held in the Durham County Jail under a $95,000 bond.

Joseph Craig, 25, has been charged with kidnapping, rape, forcible sexual offense and assault in the case. His wife, Joy Johnson, 30, has been charged with aiding and abetting. Both were being held Wednesday in the Durham County Jail.

The couple was arrested last week after a man and a woman told police they were beaten, shackled to beds, kept in dog cages and starved inside a home on Albany Street. Craig is accused of committing the crimes while his wife watched.

Police executed a search warrant at 2305 Albany St. Wednesday.

Assistant Durham County District Attorney Mark McCullough said during a Monday court hearing that the two people met Craig through a shared interest in Satan worship, but they never consented to the abuse.

Palmer "vehemently denies" any ties to satanism or to any cult, said her attorney, William Thomas.

A woman claiming to represent the Church of Satan said Craig and Johnson aren't members and denounced the allegations against them.

"Our church is, without exception, against all illegal acts. Our dogma is clear and concise on the issue of sexual abuse and crime in general: If you do it, you can be excommunicated," Ygraine Mitchell wrote in an e-mail to WRAL.

Palmer is first vice chair of the Durham County Democratic Party. Johnson resigned her positions as third vice-chair of the Durham County Democratic Party and vice-chair of the Young Democrats following her arrest.

"Diana is extraordinarily trusting and caring. I don't think she would ever knowingly do anything wrong," county party Chairman Kevin Farmer said.

State Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, called the case "an isolated incident" and said he doesn't expect any other Democratic Party activists to be implicated.

The county party's Web site was disabled Wednesday, but Farmer said that was related to a technical problem and not the allegations against Palmer and Johnson.

Prosecutors asked Wednesday that the bonds be increased for Craig and Johnson, but District Judge Nancy Gordon refused and left Craig's bond at $500,000 and Johnson's at $270,000.


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