York's trial to begin Jan. 28 in Covington
January 17, 2003
By Rob Peecher
Eatonton -- A Superior Court judge Thursday denied a series of motions from Malachi York to again move the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors leader's trial, to postpone the trial and to allow defense psychiatrists to interview the prosecution's witnesses.
York faces nearly 200 charges of molesting children. Co-defendant Kathy Johnson - referred to by York's followers as his "main wife" - is charged with 12 counts of molesting children.
Ocmulgee Circuit Superior Court Judge William A. Prior will resume hearing motions this morning. The trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 28 in Covington.
Among the motions denied Thursday by Prior was one to dismiss Johnson from the case because the prosecution failed to hold her trial within a set amount of time.
Johnson's attorney, Brian Steele, filed a demand for a speedy trial Sept. 5 - in the June term of court - giving the prosecution two terms of court in which to hold the trial. Steele argued that because jurors in the June term were never dismissed by a judge's order, the demand for speedy trial began running immediately, even though there were only 10 days left in that term.
"Unless there's an order stating these jurors are excused and dismissed, they are subject to recall," Steele said.
Putnam County Clerk of Court Sheila Layson testified that in the June term of court, she had notified jurors through a telephone recording that they did not need to show up for court, but no judge had issued an order dismissing them.
District Attorney Fred Bright argued that the jurors were not impaneled because Layson had notified them not to show up for court because no more trials were scheduled. Layson testified that a Superior Court judge had told her to notify the jurors not to show up.
Steele's argument was impassioned, and he was adamant that he was correct in his interpretation of the law.
"I understand the law," Steele told Prior. "I read every statute that comes out. É It's my passion. I understand I look strange saying acquit Mrs. Johnson based on a piece of paper that I filed, but that is the law."
Steele said he would appeal Prior's decision.
Prior also took under advisement a motion to suppress evidence seized from York's home in the village during a search on May 8.
Before Thursday's hearing got under way, Prior referred to the defense motions as "York's motions." York then stood up and said, "I am secured and do not give permission for anybody to use my name."
Though York's attorney said he had "no comment" on his client's statement, York was referring to "common law" practices the Nuwaubians have used in the past. Common law courts are not legally binding and are typically associated with anti-government militias in Ohio and other parts of the Midwest. In 1999, a common law adherent, Everett Stout, advised Nuwaubians on how to deal with problems the group was having over zoning and building issues.
Prior took under advisement a motion from the defense to limit the number of investigators allowed to sit at the prosecution's table during the trial.
Manny Aurora, one of York's attorneys, argued the presence of the law enforcement personnel would make witnesses feel "intimidated and uncomfortable," but assistant district attorney Dawn Baskin said the investigators are instrumental for the prosecution in presenting its case.
Baskin is asking that Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills and one of his detectives, an FBI agent and the DA's investigator be allowed to stay in the courtroom, even though they all may be called to testify.
The United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors is a predominately black group that refers to York as "the Master Teacher." It began as an Islamic sect in the early 1970s in Brooklyn, N.Y., but when York and his followers moved to Putnam County 10 years ago, the group claimed York was an extra-terrestrial. The group built pyramids and other ancient Egyptian-style structures on the 476-acre village in western Putnam County, and for nearly six years has been at odds with county officials over building and zoning issues.
In May, authorities arrested York and raided the group's village after several former members came forward with allegations of child molestation.
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