It's Miami or it's prison, Yahweh tells parole board

Religious leader refuses to pay fine

Miami Herald/August 18, 2001
By Meg Laughlin

Yahweh Ben Yahweh refuses to leave prison. The door is open for him. The new white shirt and pants and turban are ready for him to slip into. A snazzy apartment in a gated Miami community awaits his use.

But the religious leader, convicted in 1992 of conspiring to commit 14 murders, won't leave Raybrook Federal Prison in upstate New York after nine years because of a glitch in the works.

It is this: He wants to go to the spacious Miami apartment rented by his religious followers, the Yahwehs, who believe he is the son of God. But the Federal Parole Commission has not given the go-ahead for him to do this. So, Yahweh Ben Yahweh is not paying a $16,593 federal fine that, as long as it is owed, keeps him in prison.

"He will pay his fine when the release address he submits on his forms is approved by the parole board,'' said his lawyer, Jon May. "Not before.'' In February, Yahweh submitted his first choice for where he wanted to live.

He asked to go to Enid, Okla., his childhood hometown, and live with his 83-year-old mother, who is a fundamentalist Christian. But Scott Schakett, federal parole director in Oklahoma, rejected this proposal, writing federal prison officials: "Enid is a small rural community comprised primarily of Caucasian, traditional Christian individuals who would not subscribe to Mr. Yahweh's highly publicized religious and social beliefs.'' "An outrageous letter,'' May said. "Blatantly prejudiced.''

Then, Yahweh asked to live in Miami Shores with Delia Hankerson, a Yahweh leader. But the parole board rejected this proposal because the religious leader, as part of the conditions of his parole, cannot "have direct or indirect contact'' with members of his religious sect.

In the 1980s, Yahweh preached to hundreds that his religious followers should "kill for Yahweh.'' A group of them did, later testifying in court that Yahweh had given more specific instructions. So the parole board decided to keep him away from his followers upon release.

Now, Yahweh is waiting to hear if he can live alone in the Miami apartment. "It's a pending issue that we hope will be decided next week,'' said Glenn Horowitz, Miami deputy director with the U.S. Parole Commission. Horowitz would not say whether the "pending issue'' is whether or not Yahweh members paying Yahweh Ben Yahweh's rent for the Miami apartment constitutes "indirect contact.''

Yahweh's lawyer says paying rent is not contact of any kind, and he feels certain the parole board ultimately will agree. "But if not, we'll go back to court,'' May said.

In July, Yahweh sued the U.S. Parole Commission, saying its restrictions on his contacts were "overbroad'' and violated his constitutional rights to religious freedom.

Wednesday, Federal Judge K. Michael Moore ruled that the federal parole conditions would stick. So Yahweh Ben Yahweh remains entrenched in a prison cell in upstate New York waiting to see if he gets his way.

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