Attorneys for jailed religious sect leader Dwight “Malachi” York called his federal conviction on child sex charges flawed Thursday, as more than 100 members of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors pronounced their group strong, even with their leader in prison.
York’s attorneys filed an appeal with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The brief says the prosecution improperly applied federal racketeering laws, the judge erred when ruling on defense motions and the grand jury was tainted by pretrial publicity, York’s attorney, Adrian Patrick of Athens, said Thursday.
The brief also says that York’s own trial lawyers jeopardized York’s appeal by withdrawing a crucial motion.
York was sentenced to 135 years in federal prison in April for molesting 14 boys and girls whose parents were members of his group.
“We are still affirming that Dr. York is innocent of these charges,” Patrick said at a news conference outside the state Capitol building.
Patrick was fired as York’s attorney after his conviction, but was rehired for the appeal.
York recently referred to himself as “Baba” in a letter to supporters from a special housing unit of the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan. In the Oct. 30 message, York said he has received visitors from another planet while in prison and was moved by prison officials because he was converting other inmates and levitating in the air.
In the letter, York said visitors named Crlll, Alomar and Saad visited him from “Zeta Reticuli” and healed him.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Maxwell Wood, who headed the prosecution during the three-week trial in Brunswick, said Wood would have no comment on the appeal, noting that the government has until Dec. 13 to file its response.
“For sale” signs now stand on the 476-acre, Putnam County compound where as many as 500 Nuwaubians lived in pyramid-style structures only five years ago. The property was seized by the federal government.
But Thursday, members said their group is still going strong.
“They said the Nuwaubian nation is dead and they hoped we would dwindle away,” said Hattie McKenny, of Athens, who led the group in a religious recital before the conference began. “From what I see, we are setting that straight today.”
In the past, members have appeared publicly dressed as cowboys and in other unusual garb as they practiced York’s malleable religion—which incorporates Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Egyptian mysticism and has even included talk of space aliens.
On Thursday, members were dressed more conventionally.
All wore black, a few men wore Shriner-style fezzes and several women adorned their foreheads with jewelry similar to the bindi worn by Hindu women.
McKenney called the group “very solid, very strong,” before referring other questions to Patrick.
Officials in rural Putnam County say they’ve seen few signs of the group since York’s conviction.
Sheriff Howard Sills said he’s had no contact with about 20 Nuwaubians who own homes in the county. He said the crowd at Thursday’s press conference suggests the group is growing smaller.
“During the hearings and during the trial itself, the most they could gather was around 200,” he said. “This sounds like about half of even what they could gather then.”
Patrick said York had been ill in prison, but is feeling better.
“He’s doing fine; he’s upbeat and feeling very well,” Patrick said. “It’s the love that he feels from this family.”