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Judge Denies Bid To Stop Oakland Jonestown Memorial Dedication

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This Nov. 1978 photo shows the aftermath of the Jonestown tragedy. Dead bodies of Peoples Temple members are strewn around the Jonestown Commune in Guyana. (AP)

This Nov. 1978 photo shows the aftermath of the Jonestown tragedy. Dead bodies of Peoples Temple members are strewn around the Jonestown Commune in Guyana. (AP)

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OAKLAND (CBS SF) – A judge denied a bid Thursday for a preliminary injunction that would have blocked the formal unveiling of a memorial at an Oakland cemetery that commemorates the 918 victims of the mass suicide at Jonestown in Guyana in 1978.

The $45,000 memorial, which consists of four granite plaques, was installed at the Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland on May 9. A dedication ceremony is planned for Sunday.

Much of the money for the memorial was raised by a group called the Jonestown Memorial Fund, which includes Jim Jones Jr. of Pacifica, the son of the Rev. Jones.

The most controversial aspect of the memorial is that it includes the name of the Rev. Jones.

The victims of the mass suicide on Nov. 18, 1978, were members of the Peoples Temple, which was headed by the Rev. Jones. The temple was headquartered in San Francisco but later moved to Guyana.

Of those who died, 409 are buried at the Evergreen Cemetery at 6450 Camden Ave., where memorial services are conducted every year on the anniversary of the deaths.

The Rev. Jynona Norwood, the senior pastor of the Family Christian Cathedral in Inglewood—who lost 27 family members, including her mother, in the mass suicide and organizes the annual memorial services—filed a lawsuit against the cemetery two weeks ago, alleging that it had reneged on a commitment to have her install her own memorial there.

Although the memorial planned by the Jonestown Memorial Fund is already in place, Norwood wants to have it removed.

Norwoodsaid after the first court hearing on the legal dispute two weeks ago that Jones’ name shouldn’t be on any memorial at the cemetery because it “desecrates the memory of the victims.”

But Evergreen executive director Ron Haulman has said he allowed the Jonestown Memorial Fund, which is a new group, to install its memorial because Norwood never raised enough money to complete the memorial she had planned.

In his ruling, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert McGuiness said he is denying Norwood’s request for a preliminary injunction because if he granted it, there would be “substantial harm” to the Evergreen Cemeteryand others.

He cited “the cost of the memorial already constructed and, more importantly, the sacrifice of the rights of those who would gather to remember and honor the victims of Jonestown this Memorial Day weekend and other days, pending completion of this litigation.”

McGuiness also said it is unlikely that Norwood would ultimately prevail on the merits of the case if the matter were to go to trial.

The judge said further delays in having any kind of memorial at the cemetery “would continue to expose the victims and families of Jonestown to a continuing paralytic state of inaction.”

In addition, McGuiness said, “there are significant questions as to whether there was a meeting of the minds” about whether Norwood had a formal contract with the cemetery to go ahead with her own memorial there.

He scheduled a settlement conference on the matter for Tuesday.

(Copyright 2011 by CBSSan Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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