Sect leader's trial to begin amid influx
Athens Banner-Herald/January 5, 2004
By Joe Johnson
Brunswick -- After a marathon jury-selection process on Monday,
opening arguments in the the long-awaited trial of religious sect
leader and accused child molester Dwight ''Malachi'' York are to
begin today in federal court.
Monday's daylong session in U.S. District Court went
uninterrupted, with extraordinary security measures taken to
thwart possible attempts by York's legion of devout followers to
influence jurors. The Anthony A. Alaimo Court Facility in this
port city's historic downtown was ringed by dozens of law
enforcement personnel, from black SWAT-outfitted Glynn County
police officers to machine gun-toting Federal Protective Service
The scene outside the courthouse was markedly different from
each of York's - several pre-trial appearances in Macon, where his
case was being prosecuted until a change of venue was ordered by
presiding U.S. District Judge C. Ashley Royal, who feared
potential jurors would be influenced by intense media coverage of
York, 58, is leader of a religious sect that until recently
called itself the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors. The group is
now called the Yamassee Native American Moors of the Creek Nation,
and refers to York as Chief Black Thunderbird Eagle.
York was accused by federal authorities in May 2002 of
molesting more than a dozen minor girls, some as young as 11, at
both a house he owned in Athens and at a large Nuwaubian compound
in Putnam County. He is being tried on 13 federal counts,
including child molestation and racketeering charges. An earlier
plea bargain meant to avoid trial was rejected by a different
federal judge, who felt the agreed-upon sentence of 15 years in
prison was too lenient.
With the courtroom already closed to the public, potential
jurors were led out of the courtroom into an adjoining room where
the judge could question them about their prior knowledge of
York's case out of earshot of reporters, who are being allowed to
attend the the trial.
At the end of the day, a panel of 16 was chosen, with four
jurors to be later designated as alternates. The panel is made up
of five women and 11 men, of whom three are black and 13 are
Both York's attorney, Adrian Patrick, and U.S. Attorney Maxwell
Wood said they were pleased by the jury that was chosen.
''It's hard to tell about a jury before you give them the case,
but I think we have the best jury we can get,'' Patrick said.
''It is a very difficult thing to do with a high-profile
case,'' Wood said, ''but with his one-to-one questioning of the
jurors, I think Judge Royal was fair to both sides.''
Wearing a combination ankh and crucifix, a member of the
Nuwaubian religious sect stands outside the federal courthouse.
Morris News Service York, however, was far from pleased with the
panel that will determine his fate.
''This is a mock jury,'' he said immediately after Royal
adjourned for the day. The defendant was quickly told by his
attorney to be quiet before he could explain what he meant by the
While hundreds of his followers had stood vigil outside the
Macon courthouse during their leader's pre-trial hearings, fewer
than a dozen showed up to watch the proceedings on closed circuit
television being provided as a result of the courtroom being
closed to the public. The television was in a third-floor
courtroom, one floor above from where the jury was being picked.
One supporter, Frederick Johnson, said he firmly believed in
York's innocence, saying he had been pressured into admitting
guilt as part of the rejected plea bargain.
''He was under duress and tortured when he pleaded guilty,''
Johnson said, explaining the torture was not physical, but
psychological because of the prison conditions under which York
has been living during his 20 months of pre-trial detention.
Wood and Patrick said they expect the trial to last three to
Wood said he planned to call on more than 30 witnesses to
testify. One of those witnesses will be a woman who accused York
of molesting her both at York's house in Athens and at the
Nuwaubian compound near Eatonton.
In a previous interview with the Athens Banner-Herald, the
woman, now 18, told of how she had accompanied her mother and a
younger sister from their home in New York City to live on the
Putnam County compound, where she was told the world was going to
suffer an apocalypse, but she would be among the chosen few to be
saved if she had sex with York.
When addressing potential jurors prior to the selection
process, Royal gave them a summary of the prosecution's case
against York, which includes allegations that, in addition to
molesting children, his religious group was a front for an illegal
enterprise that evaded currency transaction reporting