The call lighted up the 911 dispatch center in the early morning hours of July 15, 2017.
“My boyfriend had a gun,” Barbara Rogers told the operator from a home in Coolbaugh Township, Pennsylvania, about 110 miles north of Philadelphia, WNEP would later report. “He told me to hold it here and press the trigger. Oh my God, he’s dead!”
When police arrived at the tan double-wide trailer, inside they found Steven Mineo, 32, dead from a close-range .45 bullet wound in his forehead. Rogers was arrested and charged with her boyfriend’s murder.
But behind what first appeared to be a simple domestic killing, investigators soon found a bizarre backstory involving an extraterrestrial cult that had swallowed up both Rogers and Mineo.
According to the Pocono Record, as Rogers’s first-degree murder trial began in March, she claimed in court the couple had gotten into a disagreement with the leader of the cult, who preaches a heady stew of alien conspiracy theories, apocalyptic biblical interpretation and warnings about “reptilian” extraterrestrials living secretly as humans. Rogers claimed a distraught Mineo had placed the gun in her hands and pulled the trigger. She said she did not know the gun was loaded.
Prosecutors attempted to strip away the otherworldly elements of the tale.
In the end, the jury split the difference, finding Rogers guilty of the lesser charge of third-degree murder. On Monday morning, a judge sentenced the 44-year-old to 15 to 40 years in prison, BRCTV 13 reported.
The sentencing did not sit well with victim’s family.
“To me, it’s amazing that somebody could put a gun to somebody’s head, blow their brains out essentially, and a jury finds them guilty of third-degree murder and not first?” Jackie Mineo, the victim’s aunt, told BRCTV 13 on Monday. “She got a break, she got a big break today.”
Rogers and Mineo were reportedly both followers of Sherry Shriner, who on her website calls herself a “Servant, Prophet, Ambassador, Daughter, and Messenger of the Most High God.” According to NJ.com, Shriner believes a “New World Order” is threatening humanity, an evil conspiracy hatched by aliens and other evil beings.
In an interview with NJ.com in July 2017, Shriner denied being a cult leader.
“I don’t run a cult,” she said. “You can turn on my video or turn it off. You can turn on my podcast or turn it off. I don’t have a list or a membership rule.”
Mineo reportedly began following Shriner through her online writings and videos in the early 2000s. But his relationship with Rogers eventually put him at odds with the teachings. Shriner told NJ.com she believed Rogers was a “Vampire Witch Reptilian Super Soldier.”
The split seems to have started when Rogers wrote Facebook posts talking about her cravings for red meat and preference for steak tartare. Shriner believed red meat was a sign that a person was actually reptilian.
“There’s only certain types of people who crave the raw meat, because they crave the blood. Those with the vampire demon in them,” Shriner said in a YouTube video, according to NJ.com. Shriner told the newspaper she then warned Mineo his girlfriend was possessed.
“When the demon manifested in her, if it was the demon or a lizard, if she had both, a human’s no match for that kind of supernatural strength,” Shriner told NJ.com. “The one thing I did know: she was no good.”
After Mineo’s death, Rogers reportedly told investigators – and later claimed at her murder trial – that Mineo began to believe that Shriner was in fact a “reptilian” masquerading as a human being.
On the night of his death, Rogers and Mineo had been drinking at a bar until 2 a.m., according to WNEP. Rogers said the couple had a few drinks, but were not intoxicated.
Back at home, Mineo suggested they head out to the dark woods and fire his gun. Later back in the bedroom, still distraught about his falling out with Shriner and her followers, he pressed the gun to his head, grabbed her hands, and forced her to pull the trigger, she claimed.
Police, however, claimed the shooting was no accident.
Before the March murder trial began, the judge asked Rogers if she wished to accept a plea for third-degree murder. The defendant declined.
However, following the testimony, the jury convicted Rogers of the third-degree charge. According to the Pocono Record, in Pennsylvania, unlike a first-degree murder charge, a third-degree conviction does not require an intent to kill, though the defendant does have to have had knowledge that their conduct was life-threatening.
The third-degree conviction also carries a lesser prison sentence, with a maximum of 20 to 40 years – which prosecutors requested. The defense, citing her lack of previous criminal record and the fact that she’s a mother of three, asked for leniency.
And at the sentencing on Monday, Rogers reiterated her claims that Mineo was truly responsible for his death.
“I was not in control of the situation that happened,” she told reporters. “I was not the dominating party in that situation.”
After the judge sent Rogers away for a minimum of 15 years, prosecutors expressed frustration.
“We would have liked to see her get more but we understand why the judge did what she did,” Andrew Kroeckel, a Monroe County assistant district attorney, told reporters, BRCTV 13 reported.
Mineo’s mother was less circumspect.
“What happened to my son is permanent,” Donna Mineo said. “Her sentence should be permanent. It was totally unfair.”