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
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
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
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
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'
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."
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
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