Sweet Evil: A True Story of Religious Manipulation and Deadly Love

Published: 01/01/1994

Sweet Evil is the story of Jennifer Reali and Brian Hood of Colorado Springs,which the “Los Angeles Times” has called “the Vatican of evangelicalChristianity.” Both were married and had young children. While Jennifer’shusband, Ben, was away on military maneuvers, she started an affair with Brian,who’s lost interest in his wife, Dianne, after she contracted lupus. Jenniferfell in love with Brian, a handsome, charming, and deviously religious man. He usedthe Scriptures to convince her that in the eyes of God it was a sin to commit adultery,yet it would not be a sin for Jennifer to kill his suffering wife. Jennifer, anintelligent and sensitive young woman, initially resisted these thoughts, but overtime she gave into them and began taking action. If the Bible said this was allright, maybe it was. Brian’s manipulation and brainwashing had sunk in: theonly way for Jennifer and him to have a life together was for them to get rid ofDianne. In September 1999, Jennifer dressed up in her husband’s army fatiguesand a ski mask, so she would look like a man. Carrying Ben’s loaded revolver,she hid in the bushes next to the building where Dianne was attending a lupus supportmeeting. As Dianne walked out into the night, Jennifer ran up to her and fired oneshot, wounding the woman. She fired a second one, right into her heart, and thensprinted away while shedding her husband’s clothes. Back home, in a stateof guilt and numbness, she lured Ben into their bed and they made love. But somethingfelt wrong.

Two days later, Jennifer walked into the Colorado Springs Police Department andconfessed everything — how she and Brian had planned the murder and how she’dshot Dianne to death on the pavement at the lupus center. The murder really wasn’ther fault, she told the cops, because Brian had talked her into it. He’d usedthe Bible, quoting specific passages that he said made doing this permissible inthe eyes of the Lord. This “good and Godly man,” as she described Brianto homicide detectives, had persuaded her that divorce was a sin, but murder wasnot. And she’d gone along with him, against everything she believed in, becauseshe’d wanted the two of them to be together.

Both were charged with first-degree murder and faced the possibility of the deathpenalty. At first, she tried for an insanity defense but then agreed to testifyagainst Brian in exchange for a life sentence. After a highly dramatic set of trials,Brian received fourteen years in prison and she got life without parole. The casewas over but for years it would continue to haunt: How could an educated woman froman upper middle class family be convinced by her lover and religious mentor thatmurder could be justified by Christianity? How could Jennifer have thrown away herpromising life and her children, all because of a false prophet? In prison, shenow writes gospel music, counsels at-risk young women, and seeks forgiveness forthe one and only mistake she ever made. Sweet Evil is a great cautionarytale, especially for today’s climate, in which fundamentalists of variousreligions are engaging in violence in the name of God.