Cult leader linked to beheadings asks to 'die with dignity


October 6, 2006

MIAMI, Florida (AP) -- Yahweh Ben Yahweh, a former cult leader linked to nearly two dozen gruesome killings in the 1980s, is seeking immediate release from parole supervision because he has advanced cancer and wants to "die with dignity," his lawyers said Friday.

Yahweh, 70, is asking U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke to order the federal Parole Commission to make a quick decision on whether to terminate parole in his case. He lives in the Miami area.

"He is not a risk of flight. He is not a danger to the community. He is frail and he is dying," his attorney Jayne Weintraub said. "It's time for the bars to be removed."

Yahweh can no longer walk because of bone and nerve damage from the cancer, according to his doctor. "His prognosis is extremely poor and death appears imminent," Dr. Wynne A. Steinsnyder wrote in a September 28 letter filed with the court.

Yahweh, a self-proclaimed "Black Messiah," 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.

He was born Hulon Mitchell Jr. in Oklahoma but changed his name to the Hebrew words for "God, son of God." His Nation of Yahweh boasted hundreds of followers who often dressed all in white.

Yahweh preached a brand of racial and religious separatism for blacks and was accused of sending followers to kill "white devils" and bring back proof.

Yahweh was released from prison on parole on September 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.

The law, however, gives the Parole Commission the final decision. A hearing officer is scheduled to consider the case on October 19 and then make a recommendation.

The process 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.

"Yahweh Ben Yahweh is entitled to die with dignity," Weintraub said.

Cooke did not indicate when she would rule but ordered government attorneys to respond to Yahweh's petition this week.