Ahinidab, 39, born Ernest Lee James Jr., earned a decent wage at the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department. Still, he felt economically trapped and politically and socially disenfranchised, his lawyer said. "The organization provided some solace for him."
Ten accused disciples are high school graduates. Carl Douglas Perry, 34, graduated from Miami Jackson Senior, married, joined the Army and went to Korea.
His dad, Lonnie Perry, was a tire changer at Goodyear, sometimes working two jobs. His diabetic mother, Helen Perry, raised seven kids without seeing her husband much. Carl used to sit on her lap during Sunday services at a Methodist church.
After the Army, Perry grew dissatisfied with a religion that tended to view blacks as "rootless slaves, " said his lawyer, Charles White. Perry's wife turned to drugs. On Biscayne Boulevard, Perry turned rebellious.
"I got a gun, too, and will blow you away, " he warned a police officer who was trying to arrest a prostitute. Perry looked at another cop: "I will blow you away, too, white boy."
Eventually, Perry followed two older brothers, Morris and Alfred, into the Yahwehs. Alfred explained that the group built "moral and ethical teachings among people who may not hold such values." But not always.
While walking to the temple one day in 1984, Alfred went into a rage and stabbed two construction workers. Police called the attack racially motivated. He spent five years in prison. Now federal prosecutors accuse younger brother Carl of shooting two Yahweh dissenters, stabbing two "white devils" and slicing off ears for Yahweh.
"I'd wished they'd never gotten into" the group, the father said. "You can work to death to make things right for your kids, but when they're on their own, they go their own way. They're my sons, right or wrong."
The decision to become "true Jews" often shook church- going, Christian families like the Perrys.
"None of the family liked it, " said Linda Wilcox Baugh, a Southern Bell employee and aunt of Dexter Leon Grant, 25. In high school, Grant was extremely curious. But he had trouble making friends. Promised a decent education and a chance for good deeds, he joined the Yahwehs at 16. He took the name Abiri, my hero.
"I guess he couldn't find what he was looking for on the street, " his puzzled aunt said.
Grant and seven other "Death Angel" suspects have rap sheets. Some list rebellious acts, such as rioting and disorderly conduct. Others list violent acts, such as assault and resisting arrest.
On May 11, 1979, Metro police patrolling a Northwest Dade neighborhood heard screams inside a house. "Help, he's beating me, " a woman cried. "Somebody help, my arm's broken. He's killing me."
Police said James Louis Mack, then 32, Job Corps graduate, disabled Marine and father of six, battered his wife, Abril. When he resisted arrest, he ended up in the jail ward at Jackson Memorial Hospital, according to police. Paramedics treated her for a broken left arm.
Eventually, the couple reconciled. Domestic-violence charges were dropped. Yahweh Ben Yahweh introduced himself to Mack one day in front of a downtown movie theater. Mack was angry, said Ellen Leesfield, his lawyer. He had seen black men stopped by Miami police for no apparent reason. "Ben Yahweh preached forgiveness, " she said. "He gave him something to love."
Leesfield traced Mack's anger to Vietnam. He left home as an idealistic recruit in 1968. During an ambush, he took enemy rounds in his right leg and right arm. He got shipped back to the States without a hero's welcome. He spent six months in the hospital and walked with a limp when he got out. He went on permanent disability.