Judge recuses himself from York's trial
Macon Telegraph/July 22, 2003
By Rob Peecher
The judge hearing the case of cult leader and confessed child
molester Malachi York has stepped aside at the request of York's
In an order filed late last Friday, U.S. District Court Judge
Hugh Lawson recused himself from the case.
Lawson rejected a plea agreement reached between the U.S.
Attorney's Office and the defense, and his decision opens the door
again for York's guilty plea to go through.
In January, York pleaded guilty in both federal and state
courts to numerous charges involving child molestation. In June,
Lawson rejected York's deal with federal prosecutors, after
telling lawyers in the case that he thought the proposed 15-year
sentence was too lenient.
Early this month, York's lawyers asked Lawson to remove himself
from the case, arguing that he had interfered in the plea-bargain
process by stating what he thought would be an appropriate
Both guilty pleas still stand, though York has the opportunity
to withdraw the plea because Lawson rejected the plea agreement.
Manny Arora, one of York's defense attorneys, said Monday that
the defense will ask the new judge to accept that plea.
"We're not sure who the new judge is or anything about him,"
Arora said. "We will also ask this judge to accept the plea as it
was negotiated, but the U.S. Attorney may have a different point
of view, and the new judge, obviously, has to make his own
decision as to whether he will accept this plea or not."
U.S. Attorney Max Wood declined to comment on whether the
government would oppose the guilty plea. However, there have been
two hearings since Lawson first rejected the plea agreement, and
York has not withdrawn his guilty plea at either.
According to the plea agreement, York would have spent 15 years
in a federal prison. A 15-year negotiated state sentence was to
run concurrent with the federal sentence. In his order recusing
himself, Lawson said he rejected the plea agreement in May because
he thought York should serve at least 20 years in prison.
May 28, Lawson "met with counsel for the government and counsel
for the defendant for the purpose of advising them that the court
had decided to reject the plea agreement previously negotiated by
the government and the defendant," Lawson wrote in his order. "The
court explained that after consideration ... the court had come to
the conclusion that the 15-year sentence to be imposed under the
plea agreement was too lenient."
According to the order, Lawson then "indicated that a sentence
of 20 years might be acceptable."
July 10, York's lawyers Ed Garland and Arora argued that Lawson
had improperly participated in the negotiations and asked that the
judge remove himself from the case. Last Friday, Lawson signed the
order doing just that.
The U.S. district clerk of court's office will be responsible
for appointing a new judge to the case, but Wood said he didn't
know how long that would take.
"The ruling doesn't change anything we're doing," Wood said.
"We're preparing for trial. We have many excellent judges in our
district, and we'll be ready for trial whoever the judge is,
wherever the trial is and whenever the trial is."
May 8, 2002, federal agents arrested York in the parking lot of
a Milledgeville grocery store. Simultaneously, FBI SWAT teams and
local sheriff's deputies raided the 476-acre farm in Putnam County
where York and his followers, the United Nuwaubian Nation of
Moors, were based. Federal agents also raided York's home in
The arrest was the culmination of months of investigation by
the Putnam County Sheriff's Office and the FBI into allegations by
the children of members of his group that York had molested them.
Just before the trial on a 208-count state indictment was to
begin in early February, York pleaded guilty to two federal counts
of transporting children across state lines for the purpose of
having sex with them and for attempting to evade financial
reporting requirements. He also pleaded guilty to 77 state charges
mostly consisting of child molestation and aggravated child
Since Lawson rejected York's plea agreement, two hearings have
been held at the federal courthouse in Macon. Both hearings were
notable for the number of York's supporters who attended. More
than 250 Nuwaubians attended the first hearing in late June, and
about 150 attended the hearing earlier this month.
During the June hearing, York asserted that he is an American
Indian, "a sovereign" not subject to federal law. He argued with
his attorneys and told a judge that according to United Nations
treaties he should be turned over to his "tribe" for trial.
York and his followers moved to Putnam County from New York in
1993. Beginning in 1998, York and the Nuwaubians have been
involved in a court battle with Putnam County officials over
The Nuwaubian compound, at 404 Shady Dale Road, features two
pyramids, a sphinx and other Egyptian-style statues and building