The diminutive 16-year-old girl walked up to the witness stand as the last person to testify in the main part of the government’s case against cult leader Malachi York.
Her name was well-known to jurors, since numerous other witnesses had called her one of his favorite victims. In a soft, matter-of-fact voice, she told her appalling story of years of sexual abuse by York, starting when she was 5.
But her most compelling answer came after York’s attorney, Adrian Patrick, asked her about a particular time York was allegedly molesting her and another girl.
“You’re going to have to be a little more specific,” the girl said. “That sounds like a regular day.”
Lead prosecutor Richard Moultrie made dramatic use of that comment in his closing argument last week: He told members of the jury they could put those “regular days” to an end forever by convicting York.
The jury members apparently took Moultrie’s passionate closing argument to heart. They convicted York on nine of 10 counts of racketeering and transporting children across state lines for sexual purposes.
They also came back with a “yes” verdict on one of three counts calling for forfeiture of York’s interest in the 467-acre United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors compound in Putnam County.
The three-week federal trial included 14 women, men and teenagers telling the jury graphic tales of York’s sexual appetite for children, which included vaginal, oral and anal sex. Jurors even saw a short, animated pornographic video seized during a search of York’s home on the compound.
A male victim testified that York showed him that video before molesting him for the first time on his seventh birthday. He said he remembered it because the video showed a devil character having graphic sex with women.
“I’ll never forget that,” the witness testified. “It’s burned into my brain.”
The trial began with U.S. Attorney Max Wood asking an FBI agent to unseal a cardboard evidence box. The agent had testified that the contents of the box had been seized at a “Jacuzzi room” near York’s home on the compound.
But the jury didn’t know what was in the box until Wood pulled out a 3-foot tall, stuffed Pink Panther.
The doll had male genitalia sewn onto it.
“Why would a grown man need a Pink Panther doll with a penis?” Moultrie asked the jury in his closing argument.
The doll was mentioned only briefly by a couple of witnesses, who identified it as a fixture in York’s bedroom. But that sort of evidence, Wood said, was a crucial part of the government’s case. “In this day and age, jurors want more than somebody saying somebody did something,” Wood said. “They want to see physical evidence.”
The “he said/she said” aspect of many child-molestation cases makes them difficult to prosecute. But the government faced a peculiar hurdle in York’s three-week trial: The defense put up parents and siblings of some of the children who testified for the government, and they called their own family members liars.
York, 58, brought his group to Putnam County in 1993. It began in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1967, but changed frequently. It started as a Muslim group, but York has also taught Christian and Jewish theology. Followers have dressed as cowboys, American Indians and claimed ties to ancient Egypt. York once wrote a book claiming he was an alien from the planet Rizq.
Despite the fact that York had pleaded guilty to state and federal charges almost exactly one year ago, he still has many devoted followers. The defense called 42 witnesses, nearly all Nuwaubians. Many were well spoken, educated and expressed absolute confidence that York’s accusers are liars.
“I truly and wholeheartedly believe it’s a conspiracy,” said 52-year-old Evelyn Rivera.
Some of York’s followers have been harassing former members who testified for the government, said Wood. Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said an investigation is under way.
Nuwaubians have also been handing out common-law lawsuits against Sills and others. “This has been an ordeal not just for me personally, but for my staff and the community,” Sills said.
The case is far from over. Patrick said the federal conviction will be appealed and expressed confidence that there are several legitimate grounds. Wood disputed that.
Patrick said York will withdraw his guilty plea to the state charges and will take that case to trial.
But Sills seemed confident that the testimony of the defense witnesses will fare no better in state court than in the federal trial: “It’s fairly apparent there was a lack of veracity on the part of the cookie-cutter witnesses called by the defense.”
In a news conference after the trial Friday, Sills said he first looked into child-molestation allegations against York eight years ago. He was asked why parents would side with York over their own children.
“At one time I tried to figure out why people would follow somebody blindly,” he said. “Then I just investigated.”