The Macon Telegraph
July 11, 2003
By Sharon E. Crawford
A Nuwaubian supporter drums outside the Federal Courthouse in Macon during Nuwaubian leader Malachi York's hearing Thursday.
A defense attorney for religious leader and admitted child molester Malachi York asked a federal judge Thursday to recuse himself from the case, arguing that the judge inadvertently involved himself in plea negotiations.
"This has created an impact and prejudice on the defendant to make decisions" about his case, defense lawyer Ed Garland said. "We say that there has been a participation in the process by the court ... and an appearance of bias can be inferred."
Garland's motion was the latest twist in the case. Last week, York told Lawson he was a sovereign Indian chief and therefore not subject to federal law.
As of Thursday, York had not revoked his guilty plea and federal prosecutors were preparing for an Aug. 4 trial. York did not speak to the court Thursday and made only a few comments to his three attorneys.
York pleaded guilty in January to taking children across state lines for the purpose of having sex with them and to evading federal financial reporting requirements. He agreed to a 15-year federal sentence in the case.
In May, Federal Judge Hugh Lawson met with attorneys in the case to tell them he was planning to deny their plea agreement because it didn't call for enough prison time for York.
At that time, Garland, an Atlanta attorney and one of York's defenders, asked Lawson what the judge felt was a proper sentence in the case. Garland said in court Thursday that Lawson said 20 years was more appropriate.
"I know the court did not want to put itself in the plea bargaining process," Garland said. "(Both the defense and the prosecution) played a role into bringing the situation to where it is ... the situation the defendant finds himself in ... is that he has been advised as to what sentence the court feels is appropriate."
U.S. Attorney Richard Moultrie said federal officials do not believe Lawson acted inappropriately when responding to Garland's question about sentencing for York. He said Lawson's comment was made long after York entered a guilty plea.
Garland said York could not consider revoking his guilty plea until Lawson rules on the motion to recuse.
Garland also said he felt Lawson made his decision on sentencing after reading an erroneous presentencing report. Lawson told Garland it was common procedure to read the reports, which are written in all federal cases, before accepting or rejecting a guilty plea.
"One of the curious things about your arguments is the perverted idea that the court is not allowed to base any opinion on the presentencing report, which is an arm of the court," Lawson said.
Thursday, Lawson did not rule on the motion to recuse or another motion to suppress evidence seized by federal and local officials when they searched two of York's residences in Putnam County and in Athens.
U.S. Attorney Max Wood said he expects Lawson to rule on both motions before Aug. 4.
"We are ready to go to trial and will abide by the rulings of the court," Wood said.
In the second motion, the defense asked the court to throw out certain items - everything from pornographic videos to an animal-printed pillow - confiscated in the Nuwaubian complex in Putnam County in May 2002.
Federal prosecutors asked Lawson not to rule on that motion until York revoked his guilty plea. Lawson declined to rule on the motion Thursday, but didn't say when he would make a ruling.
During the hearing, Lawson read an order making public a May 28 meeting in his chamber among all of the lawyers in the case. At the time of the meeting, both the prosecution and the defense said they didn't want the meeting to be part of the court record.
In the meeting, Lawson said both sides asked the court to accept the plea agreement and said a 15-year prison sentence was appropriate. When Lawson refused to accept the agreement, he said, Moultrie offered to drop all but one charge against York in an effort to get a 15-year sentence.
"(The prosecution) said they were concerned that if the plea was rejected, $400,000 in forfeited items would be lost," Lawson said. "They also expressed concerns about the emotional trauma and stress a trial would put on the victims in this case who have wanted to put their relationships with the defendant behind them."
Thursday, more than 100 of York's supporters stood outside the U.S. federal court house while the court proceedings were ongoing. Only 30 people, several of them women dressed in Native American-type clothing and hairstyles, were allowed to sit in the courtroom during York's hearing.
Several women smiled when York, who was dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and shackled at the hands and feet, walked in the courtroom. After the proceedings, the same women blew kisses at the defendant as he was escorted out of the room by six federal agents.
Outside, federal and state law enforcement officers walked alongside other York supporters as they played the drums and chanted songs.
Also Thursday, Garland introduced south Florida attorney Frank Rubino as the newest member of York's defense team. Rubino, who did not speak in Thursday's hearing, was the lead defense attorney for former Panamanian strongman Gen. Manuel Noriega.
York, who has been the leader of a cult group since the 1970s, and a group of his supporters moved to a 476-acre farm in Putnam County in 1993 from New York.
At various times, members of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors have claimed to be Egyptians, space aliens and Native Americans and connected to various religious groups, including Christians, Jews and Muslims.
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