Jonestown: Top Aide to Reverend Jim Jones on Trial for Attempted Murder

U.S. v. Layton, 549 F. Supp. 903 (N.D. Cal. 1982)

The Peoples Temple was a San Francisco religious group founded in the late 1960s. Jim Jones, a charismatic reverend, moved The Peoples Temple to Guyana in the mid-1970s after numerous negative articles about Jones appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

On November 14, 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan visited Guyana. Concerned families of those in The Peoples Temple accompanied him, along with several reporters. On November 18, a Temple member attempted to stab Congressman Ryan. Though the Congressman was unhurt, he assembled any Jonestown citizens who wished to leave and departed for an airstrip at nearby Port Kaituma

Among those who left with Ryan was Larry Layton, one of Jones’s top aides. Layton boarded a plane, took out a gun, and shot two people before being disarmed. Simultaneously, a tractor-trailer appeared on the edge of the airfield, carrying Temple followers with rifles; they opened fire. Five people were killed, including Congressman Ryan.

Back in Jonestown, Reverend Jones ordered a vat of grape Flavor-Aid be prepared and poisoned with cyanide. He then urged his followers to serve it first to their children, then drink it themselves. 907 people died the quick but painful death of cyanide poisoning, while Jones opted to shoot himself.

Larry Layton was arrested at the airfield by Guyanese state police. He was tried and acquitted in Guyana. The second of Layton’s two trials in the U.S. (the first resulted in a hung jury) convicted him of attempted murder. He was the only person to face criminal charges related to the events at Jonestown.