Recanted testimony prompts delay in restitution hearing

A key government witness in a cult leader's sexual abuse and racketeering case has recanted her testimony, but a judge told her Friday she will have to wait to tell her story.

Malachi York, head of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, was sentenced to 135 years in federal prison largely because of the testimony of cult members who said York, 58, regularly molested children and manipulated the sect's finances.

U.S. District Judge C. Ashley Royal postponed a Friday restitution hearing because, he said, he wanted to research whether Habiba Washington can take the stand during the hearing to recant her testimony. The U.S. Attorney's Office, which prosecuted the case, doesn't believe Washington's testimony is pertinent to the hearing.

"If Habiba Washington has now recanted, it is irrelevant to what we are doing today," Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Moultrie said.

York, who also forfeited property in Eatonton and Athens as part of his sentence, is not eligible for release until 2139.

York's attorney, Jonathan Marks, said Washington was one of three prosecution witnesses who now say they were not molested by York. Before the Friday hearing, York supporters sent videotapes to several media outlets showing Washington recanting her testimony.

U.S. Attorney Maxwell Wood said he had not seen the tape.

"He's playing to the media," Wood said. "The fact that they gave a videotape to the media but not us should say something."

After Royal said he was postponing the case, York accused the judge of "holding a person down." Royal did not say when the hearing would be rescheduled.

The prosecution's only witness Friday, Dr. Richard Laurence Elliott, a professor at Mercer University, said he surveyed 22 victims, and four of them said they had not been abused.

Most, though, claimed they were abused by York and others, he said. Among them, a 17-year-old who had been molested at age 12.

"She lives in fear of Mr. York's supporters and called them fanatics," Elliott said.