A crowd of Nuwaubian leader Dwight York's supporters gather Thursday outside the Federal Courthouse in Macon.
July 11, 2003
By Joe Johnson
Macon -- Accusations, descriptions of ''sex props'' and a demand the judge remove himself from the case colored Thursday's federal court hearing for religious sect leader and admitted child molester Dwight ''Malachi'' York.
Already delayed once by concerns regarding York's mental competency, a hearing in which the former Athens resident will have an opportunity to withdraw a guilty plea has been delayed again by York's motion that the judge remove himself from the case because of alleged bias.
Defense attorney Ed Garland told U.S. District Judge Hugh Lawson he had tainted his appearance of impartiality in the case when he told both sides what prison sentence he would find acceptable should the defense and prosecution agree on a new plea bargain to replace the one Lawson rejected June 25.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Moultrie accused York of employing delay tactics in the case that has dragged on since York's arrest on child molestation charges on May 8, 2002.
''The government is concerned by Mr. York making an attempt to impede this trial,'' Moultrie told Lawson.
Originally from New York City, York led a quasi-religious group called the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, which established a compound in Putnam County where York admittedly molested dozens of children. He had owned a house off Timothy Road in Athens, and his group purchased a storefront in the downtown area.
Because of York's motion for Lawson to recuse himself, a portion of Thursday's 90-minute hearing was spent creating a record of what had been said during an informal meeting in Lawson's chambers on May 28. During that meeting, Lawson indicated to prosecuting and defense attorneys that he would not accept the plea bargain the two sides had struck because the agreed-upon prison sentence of 15 years was ''too lenient.'' After excusing themselves briefly from the judge's chambers, the attorneys then asked Lawson what sentence he would consider fair, to which he replied, 20 years.
Garland told Lawson once he offered that possible prison sentence, he lost his impartiality.
A Nuwaubian supporter drums outside the Federal Courthouse in Macon during Nuwaubian leader Malachi York's hearing Thursday.
''When a judge becomes a participant in the plea bargaining process, he brings the full majesty and power of his office,'' Garland said. ''Your majesty and power has created an impact, and there's a prejudice against the defendant.''
Lawson adjourned the hearing without ruling on the motion to recuse himself or any other matters brought before him on Thursday.
Still pending is a motion for a competency examination and hearing requested by York's attorneys on June 30, when they told Lawson their client was unwilling and unable to assist in his defense because he claimed to be a Native American tribal chief who did not recognize the jurisdiction of the federal court.
The mental competency motion put on hold an opportunity Lawson gave York to withdraw his guilty plea in light of the rejection of the plea bargain. The judge had warned York that if he did not withdraw the guilty plea, he could face a stiffer sentence than what the plea bargain had envisioned.
York had initially been accused by federal authorities of molesting more than a dozen minor girls, some as young as 11, but in the rejected January plea bargain he had pleaded guilty to only one count of transporting children across state lines for sexual purposes. In state court, York had pleaded guilty to 40 counts of aggravated child molestation, 34 counts of child molestation, one count of child exploitation and two counts of influencing witnesses. Sentencing on those charges is on hold until the federal case is disposed of, as his state sentence is to run concurrent with any federal sentence that is imposed.
The other matters brought before Lawson on Thursday included a motion by the defense to suppress certain evidence obtained by the FBI in May 2002 when they searched York's $528,000 house in Athens and an estate in Eatonton inhabited by followers of York's United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors.
Defense attorney Manubir Arora told the judge that information used by an FBI agent to obtain search warrants of York's properties in Athens and Eatonton had been ''stale,'' since it came from confidential witnesses who had left York's sect nearly a year and a half before the warrants were obtained.
Reading from the warrants, Arora provided a glimpse into activities that led to York's arrest. The warrants referred to ''sex props,'' including grass skirts purchased during a trip York made with children to Disneyland, and an animal print bean bag on which children posed for pornographic photographs.
Also pending before Lawson is a June 30 motion for a change of venue, to a location where potential jurors would be less likely to be influenced by pre-trial publicity. Lawson has said he would grant the change of venue request, but would first have to decide where a trial would be held.
Lawson adjourned Thursday's hearing without ruling on any of the motions or setting a new hearing date.
York's trial is set to begin Aug. 4.
Originally named Dwight York, the 58-year-old defendant had led a sect in Brooklyn, N.Y., called the Ansaru Allah community, a segregationist religious group which incorporated Muslim traditions. Also claiming to be an extraterrestrial, York relocated followers to Putnam County in 1993, where his United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors established their Eatonton compound. At the corner of West Broad and Church streets in Athens, the group planned on opening a lodge, but later licensed the location as a book store.
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