NEW BRITAIN - Sorek Minery, 42, of Burlington, the second man accused in a 2004 cult-related murder, stood quietly in an orange prison jumpsuit Tuesday as prosecutor Chris Watson announced that DNA evidence will be used in the case against him.
Minery and Rudy Hannon, 72, of Nevada, are accused of killing Southington resident Paul Sweetman in 2004 as part of their affiliation with a cult known by followers as “The Work” run by “Brother Julius” Schacknow. Minery, appeared in the felony court at New Britain Superior Court Tuesday and will decide at a later date whether or not he wants a probable cause hearing on the charges, his public defender Michael Isko said.
Hannon convinced Minery over a few months time that Sweetman was hurting his wife Joanne, believed to be the “Holy Spirit” by cult members, and that the Southington man needed to be killed, according to warrants for both men’s arrest.
Sweetman was the “Chief Apostle” for Schacknow who had hundreds of followers during the cult’s heyday in the 1970s and 1980s. Schacknow died in 1996.
Former cult members told The Herald last week that Schacknow would employ bullying tactics and instill fear of the outside world to keep his followers in line. Minery grew up in the cult and was known as a sweet child who didn’t participate when members were humiliated by Schacknow and others during hours-long prayer meetings, former members said. Minery grew up in the cult and was known as a sweet child who didn’t participate when members were humiliated by Schacknow and others during hours-long prayer meetings, former members said.
“That completely shocked me, I used to babysit him,” said former member Lisa Guerci who fled the cult 26 years ago with her young daughter. Decades of abuse as a cult member could have impacted Minery’s ability to find off Hannon’s suggestions, said another former member. “Years of people messing with your head could make you susceptible to someone coming to you and saying God needs you to murder someone,” said Sarah Ficca who was told to leave the cult when she was 20 because she was too free thinking.
Although they have gone on to have successful careers and regular lives, Guerci and Ficca said they are still dealing with the aftermath of their experiences which are now making headlines thanks to the arrests of Minery and Hannon. “I was sad for his family, I was sad for his mom who I was close to,” Guerci said of Minery’s arrest. “I’m actually surprised there weren’t more murders, Guerci added.
“Sweetman was known as the “good cop,” who offered inspirational prayer meetings that made followers want to delve deeper into their spirituality, another former member said last week. Sweetman was also one of Schacknow’s financial advisors overseeing a multi-million dollar real estate and construction firm, which employed cult members, paying them minimum wage. His wife Joanne, who was considered a holy figure in the cult and who also had a domestic relationship with Schacknow at one point, reported Paul Sweetman missing to Southington police in July 2004.
New Britain police found a leg at Shuttle Meadow Golf Course a few weeks later. After a string of successful cold case arrests, New Britain police Captain Jeanette Portalatin, then a lieutenant, was scrolling through NAMUS, a national database for missing persons, in April 2016 when she spotted Sweetman’s name. “We had looked through the female missing persons cases but I wanted to check the males,” Portalatin who now commands the Criminal Investigations Division. “I saw a man missing from Southington who lived right around the area from where the leg was found,” Portalatin said. “The time frame seemed right. But there was no DNA on file.”
Hannon had confessed to the crime in 2006 to agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to the warrant for his arrest. When New Britain detectives contacted Southington police that same day Portalatin found Sweetman’s name, they learned of the FBI’s involvement. The Herald has submitted a Freedom of Information request for Southington’s files on Sweetman’s missing persons case.
Portalatin immediately assigned Det. Thai Tran to the case and asked that he contact Sweetman’s family to get a DNA sample. Tran also met with an FBI agent the same day Portalatin found Sweetman’s name in the database. “We don’t believe in cold cases, every case gets worked on,” New Britain Police Chief James Wardwell said. “Although she’s very modest about it, I’m very proud of what Jeanette did.”
Hannon told the FBI in 2006 that Minery killed Sweetman in July 2004 at Minery’s Plainville construction company, the two men stuffed Sweetman in a freezer, and Minery later cut up the body with an electric saw and buried the remains in a few locations in New Britain, arrest warrants said. New Britain police found Sweetman’s torso in October 2016 exactly where Hannon said it would be: Under a shed on property on Leo Street that Minery owned at the time of the murder.
Both men were charged with murder and felony murder last week. They are each being held on $2 million bond and will each tell New Britain Superior Court Judge Joan Alexander at a later date if they want a probable cause hearing which would determine if the cases against them will continue to be prosecuted.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@