Judge rejects faith claim in NY monkey meat case
A Liberian woman accused of smuggling endangered monkey meat from Africa to New York has failed to persuade a judge that she shouldn’t be prosecuted because she needed the butchered carcasses for religious reasons.
Mamie Manneh ran into legal trouble three years ago when customs agents seized a shipment of dozens of primate parts, hidden in a batch of smoked fish, as it passed through Kennedy Airport.
The dozen boxes containing the skulls, limbs and torsos of monkeys and baboons had been shipped from Guinea and were headed to Manneh’s home on Staten Island. Agents who searched her house found 33 more animal parts in her garage.
Manneh was charged with smuggling the meat of two endangered species. As her case moved toward a trial, her lawyers argued that she and other immigrants in Staten Island’s thriving community of Liberian Christians ate monkey meat for spiritual reasons, particularly during holiday celebrations, and were thereby protected by the First Amendment and federal religious freedom law.
U.S. District Judge Raymond J. Dearie rejected that defense on Wednesday and refused to throw out the charges.
In a 31-page decision, Dearie acknowledged that it was plausible for the consumption of monkey and other types of “bushmeat” to have religious significance, but said Manneh’s claim lacked sincerity.
He also noted that it didn’t address the main point of the criminal charge: That she hadn’t applied for the permits needed to import such exotic foodstuffs and had misled border officials about what she was shipping into the country.
Nothing in her religion, Dearie wrote, “required her to abstain from truthful completion of paperwork.”
Manneh’s lawyer did not immediately respond to phone and e-mail messages Saturday.
If convicted, she could get up to five years in prison and be deported.
Manneh is already serving jail time in an unrelated a case in which she was convicted of trying to run down a woman she suspected of sleeping with her husband.
Now Mrs Manneh faces up to five years in prison – as well as possible deportation.
The woman, who has nine children, is already serving a prison sentence for trying to run over a woman whom she suspected of sleeping with her husband.
Her consumption of monkey meat is not a problem for her church in Staten Island, New York, where other African immigrants also like to eat the meat.
But under American law it is illegal: as she has now discovered.
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