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Law & Order : Season 15 (2004-05) <-- Index -->

Sects (originally aired March 30, 2005)

This episode appears to be based on a January 2005 murder-suicide incident in which Ricky Rodriguez, the son of the founders of the religious group once known as the Children of God and now known as the Family International, fatally stabbed a former nanny, Angela Smith, and committed suicide.

From the episode

Rodriguez was the son of Karen Zerby, a leader of the Children of God group, and was the adopted son of David Berg, the group's founder. Rodriguez was known within the organization as Davidito and was reportedly raised as a future leader. A former nanny reportedly wrote "The Davidito Book" in the early 1980s describing how Rodriguez was raised in an environment in which he was exposed to orgies, and the book was reportedly distributed as a manual for raising children until the group's leaders ordered the document purged.

Rodriguez reportedly left the group in 2000 and then criticized Berg and Zerby in writings. Rodriguez's wife told the New York Times that Rodriguez had tried to find his mother and his half-sister in recent years, wanting to see his mother prosecuted for child abuse and his half-sister to leave the group.

The Family International, which describes itself on its web site as an "international Christian fellowship dedicated to sharing God's Word and love with others," has denied allegations that child abuse was common in the organization. At the same time, it did acknowledge in a statement responding to Rodriguez's and Smith's death that some writings by Berg and others in the late 1970s "opened the door for sexual experimentation between adults and adults, and minors with minors," and that "unfortunately in some cases the lines blurred." According to the statement, Berg and Zerby, banned sexual conduct involving minors in 1986, and Berg renounced in 1988 all literature "that indicated in any way that sexual activity with minors was permissible."

Family International says that it has about 12,000 full-time and associate adult volunteer members in more than 1,400 communities in more than 100 countries. Berg died in 1994, and Zerby, known within Family International as Maria David, is considered the "spiritual head" of the group.

Authorities have investigated communities of Family International members in several countries, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, England, France, and Spain. Family International has said that "in each of the sensationalized raids that the Family has been subjected to, the courts have clearly vindicated the Family of all wrongdoing."

Sources: Laurie Goodstein, Murder and suicide reviving claims of child abuse in cult, New York Times, January 15, 2005. The Family International is on-line here and a statement on the deaths of Ricky Rodriguez and Angela Smith is on-line here., a site for former members of the Children of God / Family International organization, is on-line here and has information about Ricky Rodriguez on-line here.

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