BRUNSWICK – The evidence is closed in the child molestation trial of cult leader Malachi York, and the jury will begin deliberations today.
Closing arguments were to begin Wednesday afternoon, but U.S. District Court Judge Ashley Royal made a last-minute postponement to consider defense objections to jury instructions. Attorneys on both sides have to know what the judge is going to tell the jury regarding the law because it affects how they will argue the case.
The closing arguments are to begin this morning, then Royal will take about an hour to instruct the jury on the law. Deliberations are expected to begin after lunch.
The government called nine rebuttal witnesses Wednesday, including another woman who said York sexually molested her as a child while she was living on his United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors compound in Putnam County.
The 17-year-old woman said that York not only molested her, but that she also had witnessed him molest two other women named in the indictment as victims. Those two women, however, had testified for the defense and denied they were molested.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Adrian Patrick showed the witness two affidavits she wrote in October 2003, in which she denied being molested.
“I was coerced into this,” Patrick read from the affidavit. “Nothing ever happened to me. He is like a father to me.”
The woman admitted writing the statement but said she did so because she was frightened and did not want to testify.
“I was trying to get out of this whole thing,” she said. “I was basically afraid at that point.”
Patrick objected to the woman being allowed to testify, saying she should have been called during the main part of the prosecution case.
Middle District U.S. Attorney Max Wood said after court adjourned Wednesday that she wasn’t called originally because she was reluctant, and the government didn’t want to call a reluctant witness. He said she later informed the government she was willing.
Also, the government called FBI agent Gary Harris, who headed the massive raid on the compound on May 8, 2002. He refuted testimony by a defense witness who said tear gas was used during the raid.
One FBI agent who testified Wednesday came from San Diego, Calif., to challenge the testimony of an alleged victim who testified for the defense Tuesday. The alleged victim denied she ever told the FBI she was molested and said that a six-page summary of her interview with the FBI was not true. Jennifer Muxworthy, the agent who interviewed the alleged victim in San Diego, said she knew nothing about the York case when she was contacted and asked to talk to the girl. Muxworthy was given only a brief summary of the case, but she wrote a detailed report from her interview with the girl that named several other alleged victims.
York, 58, is facing 13 federal charges of racketeering and transporting children across state lines for sexual purposes.
York had pleaded guilty to the charges and was given a 15-year sentence, but he withdrew the plea after the previous judge in the case said the sentence was too light and refused to accept it. York is also facing separate state molestation charges, in which he also pleaded guilty. He has not withdrawn that plea but could still do so.
The stakes are high in the trial for the Nuwaubian Nation, because two of the charges involve the forfeiture of the 467-acre compound. However, even if York is convicted on all counts, it’s far from certain the government could take possession of the property. That would remain a murky legal issue because York transferred the title to the land to other members of the organization.
His guilty plea has not been introduced into evidence in the trial because it is considered prejudicial to the jury.