Hawkins seeking change of venue

Abilene Reporter/September 16, 2009

Baird - Attorneys for House of Yahweh leader Yisrayl Hawkins, set to stand trial for bigamy, argued for a change of venue during a pretrial hearing in the 42nd District Court in Baird Wednesday.

During the hearing, Hawkins’ attorneys presented the results of a poll taken in mid-August from 511 residents in Callahan, Taylor and Coleman counties, part of the 42nd District.

Hawkins’ attorneys contended a fair and impartial jury could not be seated from those counties.

The names of those polled came from voter registration lists, and the poll was conducted over two nights during the second week of August.

John Shults, of Capital Alliance, a survey firm from Austin, said the most telling results came from the 150 Callahan County residents who were polled.

Of those, Shults said, 84 percent had an unfavorable opinion of the House of Yahweh and Hawkins, and 91 percent said they had heard of the case and the charges against Hawkins.

Sixty-eight percent of those polled said the believed he was guilty of bigamy, but 63 percent said they would be able to give Hawkins a fair trial.

Results from the overall survey mirrored the Callahan County data, the pollsters said. Over the three county district, 87 percent of the respondents said they had heard of the case.

Judge John Weeks, who will make a decision on the proposed venue change in coming weeks, asked where the trial should be moved.

"To a county that does not have an Abilene news presence," said Judd Pritchard, general counsel for the survey firm, who compiled the data. "I believe the survey shows there is too much notoriety to seat a fair and impartial jury in this area," Pritchard said.

Weeks denied several other motions including a motion for continuance. Hawkins is set to stand trial in Callahan County on Nov. 9.

Hawkins stands charged with four counts of promoting bigamy and one count of practicing bigamy. Each bigamy charge is considered a second-degree felony and carries a penalty of two to 20 years in prison with a $10,000 fine.

He also is charged with breaking child-labor laws, a Class B misdemeanor. According to court documents, up to 40 children spent 40 hours a week working on the House of Yahweh property in Callahan County.

A Class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

Hawkins has been seeking a venue change for his pending trial since it was postponed last year.

Earlier in 2008, Hawkins made national media appearances on programs such as "Nancy Grace" and "20/20" and indicated that the world might possibly end in a nuclear holocaust on June 12, 2008. The date is not the first time such doom has been predicted by the sect.

Yedidiyah Hawkins, 42, a House of Yahweh elder, was sentenced to 30 years in prison Dec. 10, 2008, for aggravated sexual assault of a child, a charge that stems from a 2005 vaginal examination he performed on his then 11-year-old stepdaughter.

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