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Dispute Over Jonestown Memorial In Oakland Spills Into Court

OAKLAND (CBS / AP) -- A woman who lost 27 relatives in the 1978 Jonestown tragedy is waging a legal battle against an East Bay cemetery over a recently completed memorial to the more than 900 victims that includes the name of Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones.

The Rev. Jynona Norwood appeared Thursday in Alameda County Superior Court in an attempt to block further construction and use of the memorial at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, where more than 400 unidentified and unclaimed Jonestown victims are buried in a mass grave. Judge Robert McGuiness was expected to issue a ruling on a temporary restraining order Thursday afternoon.

The $45,000 memorial consists of four flat granite slabs engraved with the names of all 918 Americans who died at the temple's agricultural compound in Guyana and a nearby jungle airstrip. The final slab was laid into the ground Monday.

The project was commissioned in August by temple survivors and supporters, including Jones' adopted son, who says the inclusion of his father's name is about representing the truth of what happened on Nov. 18, 1978.

"Our memorial removes individual opinions and makes it factual," Pacifica businessman Jim Jones Jr. said outside the courtroom.

Norwood said the cemetery violated an agreement with her for a massive granite memorial wall that would not include Jones' name. She began raising money for that nearly $100,000 project in 1993 and said she made a $30,000 initial payment several years ago to begin its construction off site.

"What they were promised was an opportunity to honor their loved ones — promises they were never told would no longer be fulfilled," Norwood's attorney, Vernon Goins, said of his client and her nonprofit Guyana Tribute Foundation.

Norwood, of Los Angeles, said the inclusion of Jones' name among the other victims was akin to honoring "an Osama bin Laden or an Adolf Hitler." Her ultimate goal is a court order to tear down the current memorial and go back to her original plan for the site, she said.

U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan, three newsmen and a church defector were ambushed and killed by temple gunmen while attempting to visit Jonestown on a fact-finding mission to investigate reports of abuses of members. Jones then orchestrated a ritual of mass murder and suicide at the temple. The dead included 305 children, 17 of whom were members of Norwood's extended family, she said.

In addition to the restraining order petition, Norwood has also filed a lawsuit against Evergreen Cemetery, its president, Buck Kamphausen, and its director, Ron Haulman, alleging breach of contract, misrepresentation and fraud, and seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Cemetery officials say they never entered into a written contract with Norwood nor sold her any property at the cemetery, and that her efforts to halt the memorial project are too late.

"There's nothing to stop," Haulman said.

The organizers behind the newly installed memorial are planning a private dedication ceremony May 29. They expect about 200 people to attend.

Jones Jr., who underwent a kidney transplant operation last year, said a completed Jonestown memorial in the Bay Area was one of the items on his "bucket list" of things he hoped to experience before he died.

"Our goal with this memorial was simple: Get it done," he said. "What it comes down to with the two (proposed memorials) is one person provided a promise, and another person provided reality."

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San 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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