Longtime U.S. Fugitive Sentenced To 15 Years In Guyana Court
GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) _ David Hill, founder of the House of Israel religious cult and longtime U.S. fugitive, today was sentenced to 15 years in a jungle prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter.
Hill, a 58-year-old American, and co-defendants Anthony Walcott, Philbert Clarke and Vincent Hinds, originally pleaded innocent to murder in the 1977 beating death of a cult member, but then pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter.
″You are lucky,″ said Judge Loris Gampatsingh. ″Any reasonable jury would have returned a verdict other than not quilty of murder.″
Hill’s co-defendants also pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to 15 years in prison. All four will be eligible for parole in 10 years.
A murder conviction could have carried the death penalty.
Authorities said they will serve their sentence in a jungle jail 50 miles west of Georgetown, Guyana’s capital. The jail is close to the site where the House of Israel commune once was located.
Hill and his co-defendants were charged in the beating death of a fellow cult member, James Maion, in May 1977. The charges followed a four-month police investigation base on testimony from cult defectors.
Hill, who called himself Rabbi Edward Washington and was referred to as ″king″ by cult members, was arrested in neighboring Suriname in July.
In the United States, he was convicted of extortion after he led the picketing in 1969 of fast food franchises in Cleveland in an effort to force the sale of restaurants in black neighborhoods to black owners.
Facing a lengthy jail term, he jumped bail in 1971 and found his way to this small country on the northern coast of South America, where he set up the House of Israel.
The cult has no relation to the state of Israel or to Judaism, although Hill claimed to follow the 10 biblical commandments, Kosher dietary laws, and the Torah. The group’s main belief was that Jesus Christ was black and blacks were the true Jews.
The group’s island-commune was called Jerusalem. It was located near Jonestown, the site of a suicide-massacre in November 1978 of Jim Jones and 900 followers of his cult.
At its peak under the protection of then-President Forbes Burham, Hill claimed a following of 10,000, a string of ″synagogues″ that numbered almost 50, and a factory that turned out $5,000 a day in packaged nuts and chips.