July 1, 2003
The former leader of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors told a federal judge Monday that he was under duress when he entered a guilty plea to child molestation charges in January.
Malachi York, who identified himself as "Chief Black Eagle," asked U.S. District Court Judge Hugh Lawson to turn him over to what he called the Yamassee Native American Government, saying the U.S. government had no jurisdiction over him.
Last week, Lawson rejected a plea agreement involving York, 58, who was the leader of the predominantly black, quasi-religious Nuwaubian group based on a 400-acre farm in Putnam County.
On Jan. 23, he pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of transporting children across state lines for the purpose of illegal sex and to one count of illegally structuring cash transactions. The next day, he pleaded guilty in state court in Putnam County to 77 counts related to child molestation.
As part of the plea bargain, state and federal prosecutors agreed to recommend that York be given a prison sentence that would make him eligible for parole in about 12 years.
Lawson's rejection of the plea means a trial could be necessary.
The two-hour hearing Monday was held to give York a chance to withdraw his guilty plea. The courtroom was full of York's supporters, with almost 300 outside. Many of them wore what appeared to be American Indian-style clothing with beaded headbands and feathers.
Lawson said he would make decisions in the near future on motions by York's lawyers for a change of venue motion and to have a psychological evaluation of the defendant.
"I was under duress," York said of his guilty plea. "I was in a two-man cell -- with rats. After being tortured and being told that I would get 1,000 years, they made it look like a racial issue. I was on the cross.
"I would like to be transferred to members of my tribe," York said.
"All I am asking is that the court recognize that I am an indigenous person," he said. "I am a Moorish Cherokee, and I cannot get a fair trial if I am being tried by settlers or Confederates."
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