York trial hits third week

Key rulings expected today

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/January 19, 2004
By Bill Torpy

Brunswick -- Marching bands and local dignitaries will pass the federal courthouse this morning in the annual parade honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.


But inside that building -- federal holiday notwithstanding -- will start the third week of the racketeering and molestation trial of Nuwaubian leader and black nationalist Malachi York, a proceeding that has been held under extraordinary security. U.S. District Court Judge Ashley Royal is expected to make two rulings today that are key to York's defense that he has been framed by a massive conspiracy.

Today's proceedings follow testimony by five young women who were named as molestation victims in the indictment but who came to court Friday to deny that York abused them.

York's first legal motion is to allow the testimony of forensic psychologist Phillip Esplin, who has testified in other trials that victims in alleged serial child molestations sometimes make false accusations and can have their testimony crafted by investigators.

Second, the defense wants the judge to let several York followers testify that they met with York's son, Jacob, who laid out a plan to frame his father, who is the leader of the Middle Georgia-based United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors.

"Jacob York clearly has a grudge against his father," said defense attorney Adrian Patrick. "Jacob is in the music business and asked his father for money. He didn't give it to him. Jacob has told several people that he's going to get him."

U.S. Attorney Maxwell Wood derided the foreseen testimony as "classic hearsay."

Molestation claims

Prosecutors contend they are the ones facing a conspiracy. Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Moultrie handed the judge a videotape taken from the elder York's home that he said shows York followers "inventing stories in case they are called to testify."

Patrick is uncertain whether Malachi York will testify, calling it a "game day decision."

The defense hopes to counter seven days of testimony in which 13 witnesses said they were molested repeatedly by York when they were children. In 1993, York, an ex-con and former Black Panther who founded his organization in 1967, bought a 400-plus-acre property in Putnam County and moved there. The group built Egyptian-themed structures, and more than 200 followers lived there.

Prosecutors say York, 58, used his status as leader of his quasi-religious organization to systematically molest children and gain new victims while also enriching himself with his followers' labor.

Prosecutors allege York employed "a well-developed process of steps" toward molestation that began with "innocent rubbing" and proceeded to intercourse. Wood started the case with graphic evidence -- a stuffed 3-foot-tall Pink Panther doll with a penis that was found next to a king-size bed at the Nuwaubian property. Wood, during his presentation, twice tried to hand the doll to a juror who leaned away from the prosecutor. The jury, made up of 11 men and five women, including alternates, has sat grim-faced the past two weeks.


The defense called five young women who were named as molestation victims in York's federal indictment. The women denied they had been sexually molested.

"It seemed [the FBI agent questioning her] wanted me to say something that didn't happen," said Sakina Woods, 21, who still lives on the Putnam property. "They kept asking me over and over and I kept telling them, 'No, no, no.' "

Hanaan Merritt, 18, who lives in Athens, insisted that investigators "basically told us that he molested us. They kept saying, 'No, you're lying.' "

Merritt then scolded the prosecutor, saying she was traumatized by the May 2002 raid on the Nuwaubian property by 300 law enforcement agents. "You wouldn't want your child to go through this," she said.

The defense repeatedly tried to portray the Nuwaubian organization as a spiritual, uplifting group that helped transform a troubled area in New York City and gave followers direction.

Rhea Harris, a New York native who is a nurse in Florida prisons, joined the group 30 years ago and was typical among members in explaining why she joined: "I saw there was peace in a place where no peace was to be found."

Potential protest

There has also been peace near the federal courthouse in Brunswick, which has been ringed by clusters of federal, state and local law enforcement agents, some heavily armed. The courtroom is closed to all but credentialed members of the media. Members of York's group -- usually about 40 each day -- have politely filed in to the courthouse through security and have watched the trial on a closed circuit TV set up in a courtroom on a different floor.

The judge also has ordered that the jury remain anonymous -- even to defense attorneys and prosecutors -- for fear they may be harassed by Nuwaubians.

Followers of York have packed past hearings in Macon, pounding drums and chanting slogans outside the courthouse. The trial was moved to Brunswick because of extensive media publicity. The judge worried about similar interference from York's followers when about 200 festively dressed Nuwaubians marched in Brunswick's Christmas parade and passed out fliers referring to the trial.

King Day parade organizers say York's followers have not asked to march today.

But Brunswick officials say a Marietta man named Gary Spotted Wolf contacted them to get a permit to protest against the Nuwaubians this week. York through the years has alternately claimed to be a rabbi, a Muslim imam, Egyptian royalty and a space alien. He now claims to be a Creek Indian named Chief Black Thunderbird Eagle.

Spotted Wolf, who says he represents the United Native Americans and has an Indian dance group, says York's group "is a bunch of wannabes" who are besmirching Indian traditions.

"If he's Native American, then I'm Red Chinese," Spotted Wolf said.















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