A second local Democratic Party official in North Carolina was arrested Wednesday in connection with alleged satanic rituals that involved beatings and sexual assault.
As first reported by ABC News affiliate WTVD, Diana Palmer, the vice chairwoman of the Durham County Democratic Party, turned herself in to police Wednesday afternoon on charges that she was an accessory after the fact to assault with a deadly weapon, police said.
She is the third person facing charges in a case that has shocked local party officials and been met with a certain degree of skepticism after the false rape charges filed in 2006 against several Duke University lacrosse players.
Joseph Craig, 25, was arrested last week on second-degree kidnapping charges for allegedly forcing a man into a dog cage and beating him with a wooden cane and a cable cord, court documents reveal. He also is accused of raping a woman while his wife, Joy Johnson, watched, the documents say.
Local prosecutor Mark McCullough said the victims claimed they were taking part in a satanic ritual. Johnson, a former vice chairwoman of the Durham County Democratic Party, has been charged with aiding and abetting rape and assault with a deadly weapon. The pair are in state custody.
A Durham police spokeswoman said Palmer attempted to take objects from the house where the alleged crimes took place but would not elaborate. Palmer declined to comment when contacted before her arrest Wednesday.
Her attorney, Bill Thomas, did not return calls for comment. He told the Raleigh News & Observer that Palmer was innocent.
"Ms. Palmer vehemently denies any association whatsoever with a satanic cult," Thomas told the paper. "She further denies any knowledge of a crime being perpetrated by the persons previously arrested."
Johnson's attorney said she was not guilty, but would not comment further. Craig's lawyer also had no comment, saying he had just been assigned to the case and had not yet met with his client.
The allegations left many astonished. "It's absolutely shocking," said Floyd McKissick, a Democratic state senator from Durham and the former local party chairman. He said he has known Johnson for several years.
"I think everyone is stunned at the possibility that she could be involved in the activities alleged," he said.
Both alleged victims listed Craig and Johnson's address as their own. Durham police said the victims met the couple online and went to their home voluntarily. Arrest warrants said the alleged crimes took place between January and June 2008.
The warrants accuse Johnson of "instigating and encouraging" her husband as he handcuffed a man and forced him into a cage.
Craig, Johnson and Palmer are listed in documents filed with the North Carolina secretary of state as officers of a company called Indigo Dawn. The company "offers services and products to promote enlightenment and to assist others in developing their own level of self-empowerment and divine potential," according to its Web site.
The site describes Craig as the Rev. Joseph Craig and says he is a student of "magick" and the occult.