North America - United States
Cult leaders trial begins with witness saying she was sexual prisoner
(AP, January 7, 2004)
The girls on cult leader Malachi Yorks middle Georgia compound dreaded cleaning day, according to testimony from one of the alleged victims Tuesday.
It meant we were going to stay there the whole day and eventually have intercourse, said the witness, now 18, who told jurors she had sexual contact with York since she was 8 years old.
But giving in to Yorks desires came with benefits: diamond rings, going out to eat or a trip to Disney World.
Prosecutors began building a case Tuesday that York abused his power to feed his sexual appetite for boys and girls at his neo-Egyptian compound in rural central Georgia.
The leader of the mostly black United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors faces 13 federal counts of child molestation and racketeering.
The girl, the first alleged victim to testify at the trial, told of being forced to perform oral sex when she lived in a commune with York in upstate New York, and then being moved on to Georgia and more invasive sexual contact in 1993.
Yorks attorneys said the case isnt about York imposing his power on his followers _ instead, its the government thats oppressing a peaceful religious group.
Federal prosecutor Stephanie Thacker said the children _ who were between ages 5 and 17 _ were under Yorks complete control. She claimed York set himself up as a messiah figure who demanded the loyalty of his followers.
They were taught that he was the supreme authority ... he was a god, she said. The man who they thought was a father, a god, violated them sexually when they were very young.
During her more than 2 1/2 hours of testimony, the girl often spoke so softly the judge asked her to repeat herself. She detailed the abuse and recounted one incident where she was assaulted and then given candy.
She testified that adults were kept separate from children at the compound, and that 20 girls lived in a crowded house infested with mice and cockroaches.
In opening arguments, defense attorney Adrian Patrick compared Yorks prosecution to Germanys oppression of the Jews and the British rule of colonial America.
The government is going to attempt to make you believe the defendant is guilty because hes different, Patrick said. This is a sexy case. Its about sex and money. We are depending on you to see beyond the fantasy and the sensationalism of this case.
The alleged victim will return to the stand Wednesday morning, when she will be questioned by Yorks attorneys. The trial, which was moved 225 miles from Macon to Brunswick because of pretrial publicity, is expected to last three weeks.
The hundreds of Nuwaubian supporters expected to appear at the trial have not materialized after U.S. District Court Judge Ashley Royal closed the proceedings to all but the media and those involved. He also banned protests outside the courtroom.
One man was arrested outside the courthouse on a charge of obstruction after he blocked traffic in the middle of the street, said Sgt. Kevin Jones of Brunswick police. The man, William Carroll, 28, of New York, claimed he was a witness and was trying to get into the trial.
York, 59, aka Chief Black Thunderbird Eagle, has unsuccessfully argued he has American Indian heritage and should not be judged by the U.S. court system. Prosecutors have said they plan to make a case that York used his status as a religious leader for sex and money, enriching himself, marrying several women and abusing young girls who were part of his sect.
York has maintained hes being unfairly prosecuted because of a vendetta by authorities who dislike the mostly black members of his cult for their unusual practices and a compound that includes pyramid-like structures.