Athens Banner-Herald, July 28, 2003
By Joe Johnson
U.S. District Judge C. Ashley Royal last week replaced Judge Hugh Lawson after York’s attorneys claimed Lawson had lost his impartiality in the case. A new trial date had not been set as of Monday.
”We have no information at this time as to when the trial will begin,” said Pamela Lightsey, spokeswoman for U.S. Department of Justice’s Middle District of Georgia.
York, 58, is leader of a religious sect called the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors.
He pleaded guilty to 74 state counts of child molestation and other related charges, and as part of an agreement with federal prosecutors had pleaded guilty to a single count of transporting children across state lines for sexual purposes.
Lawson last month rejected the plea agreement on the grounds the 15-year prison sentence it included had been ”too lenient.” Soon after, York’s attorneys filed a motion requesting Lawson to recuse himself from the case because he had inadvertently become a participant in the plea-bargaining process when he stated he would accept a plea agreement that included a 20-year prison sentence.
Lawson granted that motion, and he was replaced last week with Royal, a former University of Georgia law professor and school alumnus.
Upon his assignment to the case, Royal inherited several pending motions, which he may or may not choose to rule on.
”Judge Royal is taking the case as it exists, so he could have a hearing on the motions or not, and he can rule on the motions or not,” Lightsey said.
Lightsey said it was her understanding that Royal could also overrule decisions Lawson had made on previous motions.
Among the pending motions are requests by the defense to suppress evidence, including certain items removed during searches of York’s properties in Putnam and Athens-Clarke counties.
York in 1993 bought 476 acres in Eatonton, which was turned into a compound that housed more than 150 Nuwaubians and was headquarters for a sect-related business enterprise. York bought a mansion on Mansfield Court in Athens in 1998.
Also pending is a defense motion for a change of venue to a location where potential jurors would be less likely to be influenced by pre-trial publicity.