'Goddess' accused of running brothel will represent herself in court
Deanna Bennett (Source: CBS 5 News)
Phoenix Goddess Temple (Source: CBS 5 News)
PHOENIX (CBS5) -
According to court paperwork, Tracy Elise has fired her attorney and has chosen to represent herself in court.
At a court hearing on Friday, Elise was allowed to let her lawyer go and represent herself in the case. She also filed six motions ranging from being allowed to travel to being allowed to use the internet.
Two years ago, police raided Elise's church, known as the Phoenix Goddess Temple. Investigators claimed it was a house of prostitution, but parishioners said they were just practicing their religion.
It's called Tantra, and for Deanna Bennett, it's a way of life. After attending Tantra school in Hawaii, she found a home at the Phoenix Goddess Temple.
"I found it an incredibly peaceful, beautiful place to be and was really enjoying coming there and experiencing what was going on at the temple," said Bennett.
Bennett said sensual touch is an important part of the religion.
"My belief is that it's about love. It's about going in with an open mind and just being open to whatever healing is going to happen or take place in that space. It's like a priest going into confessional with somebody," said Bennett.
According to police, women called "healers" or "goddesses" were selling sex. After a six-month investigation, officers raided the church in 2011. Eighteen people were arrested.
"It's very humiliating to hear the county prosecutor Bill Montgomery make the statement that when two people go into a room and there is some nudity and money is exchanged, it's prostitution. That's a huge dumbing down of what Tantra and sensual touch is all about," said Bennett.
Bennett believes the raid was an attempt by the state of Arizona to outlaw one of the main principles of the religion.
"It's like taking Jesus out of Christianity," said Bennett.
The trial is set to start in October.
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