SAN QUENTIN -- A convicted murderer sentenced to death in a notorious 2000 Bay Area extortion and murder scheme died in an apparent suicide at San Quentin State Prison, prison officials said Monday.
Justin Alan Helzer, 41, was found hanging in his cell late Sunday evening, said Lt. Samuel Robinson. Helzer, who was alone in his cell, was pronounced dead at the prison and apparently used a bedsheet to hang himself.
The death is under investigation by the prison and by the Marin County coroner's office.
In March 2005, Helzer and his brother Glenn were sentenced to death by a Contra Costa County jury for the killings of Selena Bishop; Bishop's mother, Jennifer Villarin; Villarin's friend James Gamble and Concord retirees Ivan and Annette Stineman in an extortion and murder scheme.
"In no sense of the word was Justin Helzer a victim," Contra Costa County Chief Assistant District Attorney Harold Jewett said Monday. "Nevertheless, the origin of the obvious torment he experienced in prison, reflected in self-mutilation and now suicide, clearly rests at the doorstep of his older brother, Taylor."
The Stinemans and Bishop, the daughter of blues guitarist Elvin Bishop, were dismembered and their bodies dumped in duffel bags in the Delta.
The trial revealed the brothers wanted to start a self-help group that would, ultimately, hasten Christ's return to Earth.
In need of money, the brothers and their roommate, Dawn Godman, hatched a plan to extort money from Taylor's former brokerage clients and start an underage prostitution service that would generate cash to start the group. The scheme unraveled in August 2000, after they killed the five -- the first two for their money and the other three to silence them.
Godman is serving a 38-year prison sentence in exchange for testifying against the brothers.
As of Monday, there were 733 offenders on California's death row.
Contact Natalie Neysa Alund at 510-293-2469. Follow her at Twitter.com/nataliealund.