Sect leader's hearing on plea delayed
A crowd of Nuwaubian leader Dwight York's supporters gather
Thursday outside the Federal Courthouse in Macon.
Athens Banner-Herald/July 11, 2003
By Joe Johnson
Macon -- Accusations, descriptions of ''sex props'' and a
demand the judge remove himself from the case colored Thursday's
federal court hearing for religious sect leader and admitted child
molester Dwight ''Malachi'' York.
Already delayed once by concerns regarding York's mental
competency, a hearing in which the former Athens resident will
have an opportunity to withdraw a guilty plea has been delayed
again by York's motion that the judge remove himself from the case
because of alleged bias.
Defense attorney Ed Garland told U.S. District Judge Hugh
Lawson he had tainted his appearance of impartiality in the case
when he told both sides what prison sentence he would find
acceptable should the defense and prosecution agree on a new plea
bargain to replace the one Lawson rejected June 25.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Moultrie accused York of
employing delay tactics in the case that has dragged on since
York's arrest on child molestation charges on May 8, 2002.
''The government is concerned by Mr. York making an attempt to
impede this trial,'' Moultrie told Lawson.
Originally from New York City, York led a quasi-religious group
called the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, which established a
compound in Putnam County where York admittedly molested dozens of
children. He had owned a house off Timothy Road in Athens, and his
group purchased a storefront in the downtown area.
Because of York's motion for Lawson to recuse himself, a
portion of Thursday's 90-minute hearing was spent creating a
record of what had been said during an informal meeting in
Lawson's chambers on May 28. During that meeting, Lawson indicated
to prosecuting and defense attorneys that he would not accept the
plea bargain the two sides had struck because the agreed-upon
prison sentence of 15 years was ''too lenient.'' After excusing
themselves briefly from the judge's chambers, the attorneys then
asked Lawson what sentence he would consider fair, to which he
replied, 20 years.
Garland told Lawson once he offered that possible prison
sentence, he lost his impartiality.
A Nuwaubian supporter drums outside the Federal Courthouse in
Macon during Nuwaubian leader Malachi York's hearing Thursday.
''When a judge becomes a participant in the plea bargaining
process, he brings the full majesty and power of his office,''
Garland said. ''Your majesty and power has created an impact, and
there's a prejudice against the defendant.''
Lawson adjourned the hearing without ruling on the motion to
recuse himself or any other matters brought before him on
Still pending is a motion for a competency examination and
hearing requested by York's attorneys on June 30, when they told
Lawson their client was unwilling and unable to assist in his
defense because he claimed to be a Native American tribal chief
who did not recognize the jurisdiction of the federal court.
The mental competency motion put on hold an opportunity Lawson
gave York to withdraw his guilty plea in light of the rejection of
the plea bargain. The judge had warned York that if he did not
withdraw the guilty plea, he could face a stiffer sentence than
what the plea bargain had envisioned.
York had initially been accused by federal authorities of
molesting more than a dozen minor girls, some as young as 11, but
in the rejected January plea bargain he had pleaded guilty to only
one count of transporting children across state lines for sexual
purposes. In state court, York had pleaded guilty to 40 counts of
aggravated child molestation, 34 counts of child molestation, one
count of child exploitation and two counts of influencing
witnesses. Sentencing on those charges is on hold until the
federal case is disposed of, as his state sentence is to run
concurrent with any federal sentence that is imposed.
The other matters brought before Lawson on Thursday included a
motion by the defense to suppress certain evidence obtained by the
FBI in May 2002 when they searched York's $528,000 house in Athens
and an estate in Eatonton inhabited by followers of York's United
Nuwaubian Nation of Moors.
Defense attorney Manubir Arora told the judge that information
used by an FBI agent to obtain search warrants of York's
properties in Athens and Eatonton had been ''stale,'' since it
came from confidential witnesses who had left York's sect nearly a
year and a half before the warrants were obtained.
Reading from the warrants, Arora provided a glimpse into
activities that led to York's arrest. The warrants referred to
''sex props,'' including grass skirts purchased during a trip York
made with children to Disneyland, and an animal print bean bag on
which children posed for pornographic photographs.
Also pending before Lawson is a June 30 motion for a change of
venue, to a location where potential jurors would be less likely
to be influenced by pre-trial publicity. Lawson has said he would
grant the change of venue request, but would first have to decide
where a trial would be held.
Lawson adjourned Thursday's hearing without ruling on any of
the motions or setting a new hearing date.
York's trial is set to begin Aug. 4.
Originally named Dwight York, the 58-year-old defendant had led
a sect in Brooklyn, N.Y., called the Ansaru Allah community, a
segregationist religious group which incorporated Muslim
traditions. Also claiming to be an extraterrestrial, York
relocated followers to Putnam County in 1993, where his United
Nuwaubian Nation of Moors established their Eatonton compound. At
the corner of West Broad and Church streets in Athens, the group
planned on opening a lodge, but later licensed the location as a