Former cult leader, self-proclaimed Black Messiah seeks parole release
Yahweh Ben Yahweh, a former cult leader linked to nearly two dozen gruesome killings in the 1980s, is seeking immediate release from parole supervision so he can battle advanced cancer and "die with dignity," his lawyers said Friday.
Yahweh, 70, is asking U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke to order the federal Parole Commission to quickly make a decision on whether to terminate parole in his case. He lives in the Miami area.
"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 dated Sept. 28 filed with the court.
Born Hulon Mitchell Jr. in Oklahoma, he changed his name Yahweh, the Hebrew words for "God, son of God." He served 11 years of an 18-year federal prison sentence for a racketeering conviction stemming from his role in up to 23 murders, some involving beheadings and severed ears and fingers.
Yahweh was once head of the Nation of Yahweh, boasting hundreds of followers who often dressed completely in white and who once won praise for rehabilitating blighted Miami neighborhoods. Yahweh, a self-proclaimed "Black Messiah," preached a brand of racial and religious separatism for blacks and later was accused of sending close followers to kill "white devils" and bring back body parts as proof.
Yahweh was released from prison on parole on Sept. 26, 2001. His lawyers argue that under federal law his parole should be concluded because he has followed all the restrictions — including no contact with his former followers — and has not been involved in any criminal activity in the past five years.
"He is not a risk of flight. He is not a danger to the community. He is frail and he is dying," said attorney Jayne Weintraub. "It's time for the bars to be removed."
The law gives the Parole Commission discretion on whether to end parole after five years — it is not automatic. A hearing officer is scheduled to consider the case on Oct. 19, which would be followed by a recommendation to the commission itself before a final decision is made.
"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, the commission's chief of staff.
But that could take weeks, if not months. Weintraub and co-counsel Steven Polotsky want the judge to accelerate the process, in part because Yahweh's doctor says being on parole causes stress that is hampering his cancer treatment.
Beyond that, 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."
Cooke did not indicate when she would rule but did order government attorneys to respond this week to Yahweh's petition.
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