August 21, 2009

New judge in sect leader's trial

Ex-UGA law prof to hear case

Athens Banner-Herald/July 26, 2003
By Joe Johnson
A former University of Georgia law professor has been appointed the new judge in the trial of religious sect leader and admitted child molester Dwight ''Malachi'' York.

U.S. District Court Judge C. Ashley Royal replaces Judge Hugh Lawson, who recused himself July 18 on a motion by York's attorneys claiming Lawson was not impartial to their client's case.

They said Lawson had inadvertently become a participant in plea bargain discussions when he told defense attorneys and prosecutors that he would accept a recommendation for a 20-year prison sentence as part of a plea agreement.

Lawson had rejected an earlier plea agreement because it had called for a 15-year prison sentence, which the judge called ''too lenient.''

York, 58, is leader of a religious sect called the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors. He was accused by federal authorities in May 2002 of molesting more than a dozen minor girls, some as young as 11, but as part of the plea bargain later rejected by Lawson he pleaded guilty to a single count of transporting children across state lines for sexual purposes.

In addition to the federal charges, York has pleaded guilty in state court to 74 counts of child molestation, one count of child exploitation and two counts of influencing witnesses. Sentencing in state court is on hold until the federal case is disposed of, as his sentence is to run concurrent with any federal sentence that is imposed.

With the rejection of the plea bargain, York has the option of withdrawing his guilty plea and take his chances with a jury, or attempt to strike a new agreement with prosecutors.

York's trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 4.

York owns a home off Timothy Road in Athens, and his sect bought a storefront on West Broad Street it intended to turn into a lodge and book store. The Nuwaubians also have a 476-acre compound in Eatonton. Prosecutors allege child molestations occurred in both Eatonton and Athens.

Royal not only taught at the Athens-based university, but he graduated from the Georgia University School of Law in 1974. President Bush appointed him judge for the Middle District of Georgia in October 2001, and the appointment was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in December of that year.

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