The long-delayed trial of religious sect leader and admitted child molester Dwight ''Malachi'' York has been set to begin Jan. 5 in federal court.
Originally scheduled to start Aug. 4 in U.S. District Court in Macon, York's law-yers had requested a a new trial date because they said they needed more time to prepare in light of court-ordered psychiatric testing that is being done on their client.
York was transferred last month from a Georgia county jail to a federal penitentiary in order to undergo the testing to determine his fitness to stand trial.
The evaluation of the former Athens resident's competency is being done under the order of the new judge in York's case, U.S. District Court Judge C. Ashley Royal, who denied York's recent motion to void an earlier order for a psychiatric exam made by Royal's predecessor.
U.S. District Court Judge Hugh Lawson recused himself from the case July 18, after York's defense team alleged Lawson had lost his impartiality by becoming an unwitting participant in plea-bargain negotiations.
York had already undergone one court-ordered exam, which raised questions about his mental competency, and further evaluation was ordered by Lawson following the judge's June 25 rejection of a plea bargain York had made with federal prosecutors.
York, 58, is leader of a religious sect called the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, and prosecutors allege that under the guise of spiritual leader and deity, he sexually abused the underage children of his followers at the Nuwaubian compound in Eatonton and at York's mansion on Mansfield Court in Athens. York pleaded guilty to 74 state counts of child molestation and other related charges, and as part of an agreement with federal prosecutors had pleaded guilty to a single count of transporting children across state lines for sexual purposes in return for a recommendation he serve 15 years in prison.
In rejecting the federal plea agreement, Lawson said 15 years in prison would be too lenient a penalty for York. He told attorneys he would agree to a 20-year prison sentence, which prompted the defense's motion for Lawson to recuse himself.
Suddenly faced with the prospect of a trial, York's attorneys asked Lawson for another psychiatric examination because they said York was unable to assist in his own defense, as he told the attorneys he was a Native American tribal chief over whom U.S. courts held no jurisdiction.
Two days after Lawson granted the motion, a new addition to York's defense team filed a motion asking Lawson to rescind his order for the psychiatric exam. Miami attorney Frank Rubino claimed in the motion that after spending two hours with his new client, he determined York was able to assist in his own defense.
In denying the motion, Royal said he was relying on the report that resulted from York's first examination, which concluded that York was possibly suffering from a ''mental disease or defect'' that could render him incompetent to stand trial.