Cult murder witness may have struck out

Bad check charge could mean life for Yahweh figure

Miami Herald/February 12, 1999
By Donna Gehrke White

Former pro football player Robert Rozier, a star witness in the Yahweh Ben Yahweh murder conspiracy trial who himself admitted to killing seven men, has been arrested in California while under the federal witness protection program.

The crime wasn't big -- writing two bad checks totaling $125.24.

But it's enough to possibly send him to prison for life.

The new California "three strikes" law requires a person to serve 25 years to life if convicted a third time after two previous violent felony convictions.

Rozier, 43, qualifies because he pleaded guilty to killing four men, including two during the Yahweh religious sect's takeover of an Opa-locka apartment complex in 1986.

When the former Oakland Raiders defensive player was picked up for questioning near the scene of the Opa-locka murders, he told investigators he was Neariah Israel, age 404.

But Rozier later changed his story and agreed to a 22-year sentence in exchange for testifying against his former religious leader, Yahweh Ben Yahweh, and 15 followers.

While jurors gasped, Rozier recounted at the 1992 trial how he and other Yahweh followers went in search of killing white people, whom Yahweh called "white devils," to be part of Yahweh's religious sect.

At the trial, Rozier admitted killing six men for Yahweh -- who called himself the architect of the universe. Rozier said he killed a seventh for simply following him.

Rozier said he would have killed more -- including a Delray Beach police officer -- if fate had not intervened.

Jurors later said they were torn whether to believe his tales but eventually convicted Ben Yahweh and six followers of conspiring to commit murder to maintain their religious empire.

The El Dorado (Calif.) County Sheriff's Department learned Rozier's real identity when he was picked up earlier this month. He was threatening a store owner who wanted Rozier's bounced checks made good.

Rozier told investigators that he was in the federal witness protection program.

After he was released on probation from an undisclosed prison, he relocated last summer to the rural northern California county, near Sacramento, where he grew up.

Rozier was living in a middle-class home, valued at about $150,000, but apparently had trouble finding steady work, El Dorado Sheriff's Detective Damian Frisby said.

The lead federal Yahweh prosecutor, Richard Scruggs, could not be reached for comment Thursday. The local FBI declined to comment.

Rozier's Miami attorney, Jeffrey Weinkle, said he was sorry to hear of Rozier's arrest.

"He's a very personable guy," Weinkle said. "It's a real argument against the three-strike law" that Rozier could get 25 years to life for writing two bad checks.

But El Dorado Deputy Frisby said he and others weren't happy that an admitted seven-time killer had been placed in their community -- without notification of the sheriff's department.

"This guy is a serious problem," he said.

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