Dying Yahweh wants parole lifted

Murderous cult leader Yahweh Ben Yahweh is dying of cancer, and his lawyers say he should be released from parole.

The Miami Herald/October 1, 2006
By Amy Driscoll

Yahweh Ben Yahweh, the Miami cult leader whose brand of black supremacist preachings drew his followers into a conspiracy of murder and terror in the 1980s, is dying of advanced prostate cancer and should be immediately released from parole so he can die with dignity, his lawyers said Friday.

Lawyers for Yahweh, the self-proclaimed "Black Messiah," went to federal court last week with an emergency motion asking a judge to order the federal Parole Commission to set an immediate hearing date for parole termination.

"Death is imminent, and he should be able to die with dignity," said attorney Jayne Weintraub. ``They have monitored him every day -- every phone call, every move -- and he has never made a misstep. There's no likelihood that he is a risk for flight. He is in fragile health."

Yahweh, 70, served 11 years of an 18-year prison sentence on a federal conviction for conspiracy and has completed five years on parole. He lives alone in Miami, his lawyers said.

"He is now unable to walk due to bone and nerve involvement by the cancer. His prognosis is extremely poor and death appears imminent," his doctor, Wynne A. Steinsnyder, wrote in a letter to the court dated Sept. 28.

Weintraub and co-counsel Steven Potolsky say Yahweh is suffering from the last stages of metastasized cancer and that keeping him under supervision is worsening the disease.

"The stress is exacerbating the cancer," Weintraub said.

From his bunkered Temple of Love in Liberty City, Yahweh -- born Hulon Mitchell Jr. in Oklahoma -- once told followers that white people were terrorists and that unbelievers were devils.

Once won praise

After changing his name to the Hebrew words for "God, son of God," he led the Nation of Yahweh, boasting followers who often dressed in white and who once won praise for rehabilitating blighted Miami neighborhoods.

Yahweh preached racial and religious separatism for blacks. Federal prosecutors called him the most notorious criminal in South Florida. They accused him of plotting 14 Miami-Dade County murders and of ordering the firebombing of a Delray Beach neighborhood in 1986 to further his religious empire.

Trudi Novicki, a former prosecutor on the case and now executive director of Kristi House, a center for abused children, said the Yahweh conspiracy resulted in terrible crimes.

"His crimes were horrific. He was a very dangerous person when we prosecuted the case," she said.

He was released from prison on parole on Sept. 26, 2001. His lawyers argue that his parole should end because he has complied with all legal requirements -- including no contact with former followers -- and has not been involved in any criminal activity since his release.

October 19 hearing

Federal law, however, gives the Parole Commission discretion on whether to end parole after five years. A hearing officer is scheduled to consider the case on Oct. 19, which would be followed by a recommendation to the commission and then a final decision.

"It's an opportunity for the parolee to make a case as well as an opportunity for the commission to find out more," said Tom Hutchison, commission chief of staff.

But Weintraub worries that the decision could take weeks or longer, and Yahweh may not have that much time.

The lawyers say in court papers that Yahweh ``is entitled to, and greatly desirous of, the simple dignity of being permitted to die a free man, not a parolee."

The emergency motion filed by Yahweh's lawyers is before U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke. Cooke did not indicate when she would rule but did order government attorneys to respond this week to Yahweh's petition.

The government's response, received by the lawyers late Friday, simply reiterated the Oct. 19 hearing date.

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