Convicted killer, former football player, says he's sorry for slaying

Associated Press, March 6, 1999

CAMERON PARK, Calif. (AP) -- Federal prosecutors say former NFL player Robert Rozier set out to become an angel of death as an executioner for a Miami cult leader.

Convicted of four murders, but given a reduced sentence for cooperating with authorities in Florida and then given a new identity and released in the federal witness protection program, Rozier now says he has "total remorse" for his actions as Neariah Israel and says he rebuilt his life in an intense spiritual and intellectual transformation.

The former University of California defensive lineman played six games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1979 before his career fizzled out amid allegations of drug use and petty crime. But by 1986, he says he had been reborn as Neariah Israel, "Child of God."

In a confession, Rozier said that to prove himself to Yahweh Ben Yahweh, he descended into Miami's Coconut Grove district and repeatedly stabbed an intoxicated man and his roommate until they died. He ultimately pleaded guilty to four other murders in Florida and confessed to three more.

Rozier, 43, was living anonymously in Cameron Park when El Dorado County deputies arrested him last month for allegedly bouncing checks.

He is now in custody under the name Robert Rameses, his once-secret identity under the federal witness protection program. His hidden past now public, Rozier says his life is in danger.

In an interview with the Sacramento Bee, Rozier disavowed his past. Neariah Israel "is long, long dead," he said. "I don't know how else to explain it, but that person is gone."

El Dorado authorities say the Rozier case raises troubling questions about the ultra-secret witness protection program. And his arrest triggers a test of California's "three strikes" sentencing law.

While conceding that without his criminal background Rozier would only be charged with a misdemeanor, prosecutors are seeking felony charges to put him behind bars for the rest of his life.

After 10 years in prison, Rozier was set free with a new identity in 1996, his payoff for testifying against Yahweh Ben Yahweh and other leaders of a sect blamed for at least 23 killings and a series of firebombings in the 1980s.

"He is probably their most hated enemy," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Scruggs, who prosecuted the Yahweh case. "He is their Judas, their enemy number one."

Rozier says El Dorado authorities should have let him quietly return to his life as Robert Rameses. He owned a Sacramento auto detailing business, dabbled in Internet Web-page design and helped to raise two children.

But a judge set Rozier's bail at $10 million.

"I think this case really tests the limits of the `three-strikes' law," said prosecutor Paul Sutherland. "We're going to do everything we can to put him away. It's just unfortunate that the state of Florida couldn't do this."

Rozier's attorneys say their client paid his debt by risking his life to testify against the sect. But El Dorado prosecutors contend Rozier's past as cult henchman for a sect that advocated a race war against "white devils," but mostly targeted African Americans who resisted its influence, is simply too horrible to ignore.

Rozier said he was mesmerized into violence by Yahweh Ben Yahweh -- born Hulon Mitchell Jr. -- who called himself "God the son of God." Rozier said he was ordered to kill by "a very intelligent Hannibal Lecter" who claimed he was "God on planet Earth."

A federal grand jury indicted Yahweh Ben Yahweh and 16 followers on conspiracy and racketeering charges for murder, arson and extortion. Yahweh was sentenced to 18 years in prison after a jury convicted him of conspiracy but deadlocked on more serious charges. He was acquitted in a state murder case after his lawyers attacked Rozier's credibility.

"It was hammered into us 15 to 16 hours a day about men being lynched and women being smashed down and babies being torn open," Rozier said. "Isn't that how they trained the Marines, by dehumanizing the enemy?

"I am the first to come to grips with what happened," Rozier said. "I am not living in a psychotic world. I'm living in a real world and having to face myself. I have grieved more than any human being can grieve."

El Dorado County Sheriff Hal Barker says he isn't pleased that Rozier ended up in Cameron Park, though he's vowed to protect him now that he's jailed.

But Rozier says the only danger he presents to society is the eagerness of his enemies to kill him.

"This county," he said, "has no idea of the Pandora's box they've opened."

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