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February 2, 2000

One-time accused murderer Richard Bandler is back in town for a court battle over intellectual property. Shmuel Thaler/Sentinel

Former suspect in notorious murder trial is back in town — and back in court

Sentinel staff writer

SANTA CRUZ — Richard Bandler is back.

The one-time accused murderer who walked out of a Santa Cruz courtroom more than a decade ago a free man has returned to the same courthouse to defend his legacy.

His battle this time is not for his innocence in a sensational case involving the slaying of a prostitute. Instead, the psycholinguistic guru is suing a former associate and others for allegedly misusing what he considers intellectual property belonging to him.

Judge Robert Yonts, who is presiding over the non-jury trial, will determine whether Bandler will prevail.

Bandler, 50, helped develop what is called "neuro-linguistic programming," a psychotherapeutic technique that supposedly enhances communication. He and former UC Santa Cruz linguistics professor John Grinder developed NLP in the 1970s, saying the discipline, an amalgam of linguistics and hypnosis, could help modify human behavior.

The two have since gone their separate ways. In fact, Grinder is one of the defendants in the civil case. Christina Hall, who used to work with Bandler in the 1980s and was a prosecution witness in Bandler’s criminal trial, is also a defendant.

Hall, who denies Bandler’s accusations of trademark infringement and unfair competition, said she is surprised Bandler is waging the legal battle against her and other NLP trainers. Bandler filed the $10 million lawsuit in Santa Cruz County Superior Court in January 1997.

"It’s really a shame it’s going on," she said. "I don’t know why he’s doing this."

Bandler, a San Francisco resident, moved from Santa Cruz after his acquittal in 1988. "I didn’t feel safe here," he said this week.

But that is all behind him now, he said, and he has returned to his old haunt — also the birthplace of NLP — to fight for what he thinks is rightfully his.

"(The murder case) doesn’t bother me," he said, walking alongside the court- house during a break in the civil trial. "That’s all over and done with. ... They went after the wrong guy to begin with."

Bandler’s two-month trial gained national attention, packing the courtroom with spectators drawn to the bizarre case, which included a pop psychologist, a cocaine dealer and a hooker who specialized in kinky sex.

Bandler was accused of fatally shooting 31-year-old Corine Christensen, the daughter of a San Francisco cop, in her Capitola town house in November 1986.

But Bandler claimed the prosecution’s star witness, James Marino, an admitted former cocaine dealer and a close friend, killed her and then set him up to take the fall.

Marino claimed Bandler was angry at Christensen because she was having a lesbian affair with Bandler’s live-in girlfriend, and because she owed him money.

Both men admitted to being in the room when Christensen was shot. But in the end, no one was ever convicted in the case: Bandler was acquitted.

Since then, Bandler said he has written five more books on NLP and has continued to give seminars on it across the country and in Europe. He’s married and has two grown children.

NLP may have been pooh-poohed by some as pop psychology, but it has gained popularity around the world. Thousands of people worldwide are "trained" in NLP each year.

In Britain, where Bandler lives almost six months of the year, his seminars are promoted by world-famous hypnotist Paul McKenna. At least 1,200 people are certified in NLP annually in that country, according to the court testimony of Michael Breen, of McKenna Breen, one of the world’s largest providers of NLP.

Bandler’s lawsuit against Grinder, Hall and others hinges largely on agreements and court orders dating to the 1980s — after Bandler and Grinder split up and filed for bankruptcy under their separate corporations, Not Limited and Unlimited, respectively.

The civil case, which includes a countersuit by Hall, centers on the issue of the ownership of NLP intellectual property, including the use of a registered service mark. In addition, Bandler is trying to protect his public persona, seeking a court ruling banning Hall and others from teaching and promoting NLP in the "Bandler-style" without his permission.

"It’s about all these promises that people made and how they haven’t kept their word," Bandler said. "They’re giving away things that don’t belong to them."

Copyright 1999-2007, Santa Cruz Sentinel Publishers Co.
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