The end of Yahweh ben Yahweh and the 'Temple of Love'
The judge overseeing the case against Yahweh ben Yahweh and his followers writes that the case is arguably the most violent ever tried in a federal court with beheadings, stabbings, and severing of body parts. Strange coincidences occur outside the courtroom as the U.S. assistant attorney's secretary is murdered outside her front door, and another witness is run over by a train. The verdict arrives, but things are far from over as Yahweh ben Yahweh is charged with one count of first degree murder by the state of Florida. What was truth about the Temple Of Love? Was Yahweh ben Yahweh wrongly persecuted or rightly prosecuted.
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Despite a deal that former Yahweh Robert Rozier cut with the state, he's Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Scruggs' witness now.
Scruggs takes Rozier out of the state of Florida's custody and puts him in federal protection.
"Because the Yahwehs were going to kill him," Scruggs says.
Robert Earnest Rozier, a former Yahweh who was excommunicated by the spiritual leader of the Nation of Yahweh after he agreed to cooperate with police, was convicted and sentenced to 22 years in prison after pleading guilty to the second-degree murders of four people. Now his testimony might send Yahweh ben Yahweh to prison. Rozier told authorities detailed descriptions of crimes committed during his time as a Yahweh. He says that they were ordered by Yahweh ben Yahweh himself.
Scruggs and the other attorney working on the case with him, Trudy Novicki, travel to the Federal Correctional Institute in Otisville, N.Y., to visit Rozier. It's one of the top security prisons, Scruggs tells me. Scruggs is still steaming over what he calls Rozier's con-job deal.
"I went up to meet him and we went at each other," Scruggs says. "It was like oil and water. Rozier and I get into it. I tell him that I thought he totally conned the state attorney's office. He was a 'yuck, yuck' on that one, and that I was going to try to get out of that deal any way I could and if I could find a way to charge him, I was going to. I dared him to lie to me or create any kind of perjury because I would prosecute him to the hilt. I told him, 'I am after you from this point out. Whether we make the case or not, I just can't deal with you.' He was screaming and yelling at me. From that day forward, Rozier and I just couldn't talk to each other. Trudy had to handle Rozier."
Rozier was problematic and Scruggs says he ended up having a "terrible relationship" with him.
"By the time we got to trial, we couldn't be in the same room," he says.
Scruggs says at the time they kept it quiet that the chief prosecutor and prosecution's key witness hated each other.
"Not only did I not pay him, I couldn't speak to him," Scruggs says, debunking claims that Rozier was a paid informant.
Venita Mitchell, Yahweh ben Yahweh's daughter, claims that Rozier was a murderer before he arrived at the "Temple of Love."
"Robert Rozier is a paid liar," she says. "The government paid (him and others) to lie, they received money to lie, to testify against Yahweh ben Yahweh. The murders happened with Robert Rozier himself. Before he came to the Nation of Yahweh, he had already killed several men."
Mitchell says Rozier came to the "Temple of Love" to hide out.
"We later found out that Robert Rozier had committed all these crimes before he even came to the nation," she says. "Yahweh ben Yahweh never gave him orders. He never gave those order that was all made up. They told him to say that and he did."
Scruggs is quick to debate that fact.
"He was a con man," Scruggs says. "I don't shy away from that whatsoever. I said he conned the state government through his attorney. He wasn't violent that we saw. If he's killed before and was a murderer before, those people would have to tell me who did he murder and where were those cases. We looked for that, had he done something. … If I could have found something that he had done and he had murdered someone else coming to the Yahwehs that wasn't covered by that proffer, he would have gotten life in prison. I would have prosecuted him myself."
Rozier wasn't the only witness, Scruggs says.
"We wouldn't have just had to pay Rozier to lie, but a number of people," Scruggs says.
The former U.S. assistant attorney says he had others who testified.
"I would invite you to look at the record," Scruggs recalls. "He wasn't the only witness. We had a number of people, including Yahweh's own sister, Jean. We had a whole family, the Alberts, and a guy named Michael Mathis testified. I can use their names now because they went off into the witness protection program, so they didn't get killed. You could get rid of Rozier and still convict Yahweh ben Yahweh."
There is substantial cause to base a 25-page federal indictment on Yahweh ben Yahweh and 15 codefendants. Proceedings get underway in federal court in Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 2, 1992.
Tales of terror at the 'Temple of Love'
"We did everything from driving a bus to killing someone if necessary," Rozier tells the jury.
In court documents, Judge Norman Roettger writes in his order: "The case is arguably the most violent case ever tried in a federal court -- beheadings, stabbings, severing of body parts."
Scruggs agrees that the trial was horrendous.
"You can't imagine all the stuff that came out at the trial," he says. "Some things were so bad that we didn't even show the jury. I thought they were too bad to show."
The attorney says he was going to show one of the severed ears at the trial.
"I had one of the ears," he says. "It was enclosed in glass so I could make an exhibit out of it. Then I realized, 'I'm not going to show people this ear.'"
Scruggs decided to keep the ear tucked away in the vault. It was never shown.
Inside the courtroom, things are tense, not just because of the goings on there, but because of some frightening incidents surrounding the case.
Scruggs's secretary, Pamela Crumpler, is shot to death at the front door of her Dade County home, but Metro-Dade police and the FBI determined it was not connected to the trial. The woman was killed Friday, Feb. 21, 1992, more than a month after the trial was underway. Her sister-in-law told the South Florida SunSentinel that she was coming home from work and stopped to pick up food at the grocery store. As she got to her front door, three men approached her and shot her once, according to police, who determined that it was a robbery.
"We thought it was the Yahwehs," Scruggs says. "You can imagine our suspicions. But it was a botched robbery and nothing more than that. After that Friday, Yahweh came to me in the courtroom, which he usually didn't talk to me in the courtroom. He came up to me that Monday morning. I remember it like it happened yesterday. He said, 'Richard, I didn't do this one.' I always remember him saying, 'I didn't do this one.' I thought that for him to come up and say that, he probably didn't do that one."
After months of testimony from more than 100 witnesses, the jury says they are deadlocked several times. The judge orders them to continue to search for a verdict.
The Miami Herald reports in a story on May 14, 1992 that the trial has gone on for so long that Yahweh defendants are in court reading the Bible and Machiavelli's "The Prince." The spiritual prince of Miami flashes smiles and blows kisses to supporters in the courtroom.
It's May 28, 1992. The jury has deliberated for five days. They have reached a decision. Yahweh ben Yahweh is convicted of racketeering conspiracy. They can't find cause to convict him on the second racketeering charge, which would have linked him directly to the murders.
Six of his followers are convicted of racketeering conspiracy charges. Seven others are acquitted of all charges. The jury deadlocks on two of the other defendants, so Roettger declares a mistrial for those.
'Michael the Black Man'
One of the acquitted was Maurice Symonette. Still a Yahweh, you may recognize Maurice as the guy who stands behind President Donald Trump at political rallies waving his "Blacks for Trump" sign.
Symonette, whose Yahweh name is Mikael Israel, tells me he adopted the name Maurice from his mother's maiden name. He was born Michael Woodside. Ricardo Woodside, Michael's brother, was also part of the Nation of Yahweh.
Ricardo, who left the Nation of Yahweh in 1985, testified against Yaweh ben Yahweh. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy and served a five-year sentence.
I ask Symonette about the White Devils and the brotherhood.
"I've known these stories for years, that Yahweh ordered me to tell the guys to do it," he says. "I know I never did that. The thing is that Rozier was the one that said I gave the instructions, but then he admitted it was a lie. The whole thing about the White Devils was all Rozier. He was the only witness to that part of the situation."
I ask Maurice about his support of Trump and his fixed seat behind the president at rallies. He surprises me and tells me it goes back to Yahweh, that Yahweh told him Trump's future as president is prophesized.
"Yahweh ben Yahweh told us in 1984 that Trump was Cyrus," Symonette says. "He said one day he is going to run for president."
Symonette says he was walking on Broadway in New York with Yahweh ben Yahweh when they saw Trump get out of a limo. Yahweh pointed to Trump and said, "That's Cyrus right there. One day he is gonna run for president and you need to support him."
Cyrus the Great has a place in Jewish history and, according to the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah 45:1), God had anointed him for the task of liberating Jews from bondage and allowing them to go back to Palestine and rebuild their temple.
The state goes for first-degree murder
Immediately after the federal trial, the state files murder charges against Yahweh and three other defendants in the death of Cecil Branch, who was stabbed to death more than two dozen times and both his ears severed on Sept. 20, 1986. Police find him face down on the floor of his house, bound and gagged with strips of bed sheets.
The prosecution states that Yahweh ordered the killing after Branch confronted and knocked down a female Yahweh. This indictment charges Yahweh ben Yahweh with one count of first-degree murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. The state's key witness is Robert Rozier, who admits to participating in the murder of Branch. There's evidence against him being at the scene of the crime. A fingerprint on the frame of Branch's front door matches Rozier's prints. Rozier has already cut his deal for his part in all of the Yahweh murders, a 22-year sentence and admittance into the federal witness protection program.
Jayne Weintraub, the Miami attorney who defended Yahweh in state court, says the case was built on Rozier's lies.
"The one thing that was true that Yahweh kicked him out of the temple," she says. "He banished him. And Robert Rozier subsequently said, 'Rozier told me to do it.' This was a death penalty case, and the kind of evidence should be so sure, so precise, so exacting. You would hope. The evidence was far from that. It was all on corroborators who would parrot and say to get on the bus of the prosecutors and get a deal. Robert Rozier committed many murders."
Weintraub says she believes that Rozier acted on his own.
"He was a liar," she says. "He couldn't be believed."
An investigator went to California to research Rozier. He tells Weintraub that his nickname in college was "Lying Bob."
"It doesn’t get any better than that," she says.
Weintraub says that "word of mouth" was all they had on Yahweh.
"People were trying to overthrow Yahweh. He had too much power," she says. "Yahweh ben Yahweh was peaceful."
She believes there were incidents that happened that were connected to the Yahwehs.
"But not Yahweh ben Yahweh," she adds.
It's Thursday, Dec. 17, 1992. Yahweh ben Yahweh and his three followers are acquitted in Branch's death. It's back to federal prison for Yahweh to serve out his 18-year sentence. He's in prison during the Sept. 11 terror attacks in New York. He's listed as a terrorist, so he's placed in solitary confinement.
Scruggs tells me something he hasn't talked about, only to law enforcement.
"The White Devils have always mystified me," he says. "I will tell you a story that I've never told outside of law enforcement. We had two witnesses who refused to testify that told us that they were demonstration murders, so that it would be recorded in records and in newspapers, so that someone could tell that a group had done it, that Yahweh ben Yahweh was doing it for (Muammar) Gadhafi in Libya. The Libyans were looking for a hit group to act on their behalf in the United States. According to two witnesses was that when Yahweh ben Yahweh met with certain religious figures, he was introduced to the Libyan agent that they wanted to deal with someone more subtle. The murders, unbeknownst to the people committing the murders, were demonstration murders for the Libyans to show that he could have people killed and have it done quietly."
Scruggs says that money started mysteriously floating in to the Yahwehs' bank account that the federal government couldn't trace.
Not long after in September 2001, after serving 10 years, Yahweh ben Yahweh is released on parole.
He moves into a four-bedroom home in Miami-Dade County, owned by the Yahwehs. One neighbor says, "We don't need somebody like that. I guess if he's changed, you know, it's OK," she tells then-Local 10 News reporter Kelley Mitchell.
Weintraub says, at that point, Yahweh just wanted to be left alone.
"People would always rubberneck by that house," she recalls. "All he wanted was to be left alone and to die in peace."
By this time, he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Rozier back in jail in California
Rozier serves 10 years of his 22-year prison sentence and is released in 1996. Part of his deal for testifying against Yahweh and other followers is, upon his release, he will become a federal protected witness. His name is changed to Robert Rameses. He relocates to California.
In 2001, his present collides with his past as he is arrested for felony check fraud for passing bad checks in El Dorado County, California. The prosecution says he wrote checks for brake pads, groceries, video rentals and to pay a bar tab from an account that had been closed. Twenty-seven checks in all, totaling $2,200. The judge lectures Rozier as he sentences him to a California prison from 25 years to life, not for the check but for throwing away his chance at freedom.
"You were home free, free of the death penalty, and still you went back to committing crimes," the judge tells him.
Rozier remains in jail. I sent him a letter for the opportunity to speak with him via telephone. As of yet, I have received no response.
There are people who still follow Yahweh ben Yahweh's teachings and who maintain his innocence.
Rick Alan Ross, an expert on cult culture and the founder of the Cult Education Institute, talks about Yahweh ben Yahweh in his book, "Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out."
"People that can't accept that fact and they are in denial because of their emotional investment in the group," he says. "They don't want to accept who Hulon Mitchell was. He was a typical cult leader. He claimed he was divine. That kind of narcissistic ego driven exclusive claim and your role in the world is typical of a lot of cult leaders. He wouldn't take responsibility, so he would rather scapegoat and throw his followers under the bus than accept responsibility for what he had instructed them to do."
In one of his preachings, Yahweh ben Yahweh says that he is Yahweh's only begotten son.
"I was alive before I was born. What Yahweh has in him I have in me. I have life eternal. Therefore, you cannot kill me, and I cannot die," he says.
Yahweh did die, of prostate cancer on May 7, 2007, at the age of 71. He blamed the government for giving him cancer.
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