But even after they joined the group, some followers found trouble. Police once arrested Carl Perry for cocaine possession. The charges were dropped. In Jacksonville, sheriff's deputies picked up Rufus Pace, on probation for burglary, after residents complained he was panhandling. James Mack was in a group of Yahweh disciples who pummeled a man caught stealing roofing paper from the temple.
At 4:20 one morning, Metro police accused Job Israel and three other disciples of theft. They were in a Yahweh pickup truck loaded with 64 milk crates and 52 housewares cartons from Winn-Dixie. "All they would do was stand on the side of the road and pray, " said officer Luis Romero Jr.
Two months later, Job signed an affidavit stating that he thought the items were "awaiting pickup by the Sanitation Department." The Yahwehs' brotherhood, he professed, had a mission to collect trash and turn it into "useful products" for the elderly.
Prosecutors said Yahweh Ben Yahweh instilled fear in disciples and squelched dissent through public humiliation and beatings. He controlled everything, Assistant U.S. Attorney Scruggs said -- from the food people ate, to the place they lived, to the money they made, to the hours they worked, to the amount of sleep they got.
For a few of the indicted disciples, the spell wore off. Carl Perry "disassociated himself" in 1987, his lawyer said. Michael Mathis defected in 1988 "at some personal risk."
After leaving the temple, Mathis got a job as a maintenance man and started paying $300 a month for support of two daughters, ages 4 and 2. He cooperated with federal agents, but the grand jury indicted him anyway. His arrest last month wrecked his search for a real family.
Mathis' common-law wife, Patricia Albert, pleaded with a magistrate: "Give him back to his children." Albert, who grew up in Yahweh, said Michael wasn't like other Yahweh men who fathered children then simply denied the kids' existence. "These are not my kids, " the disciples would swear. "Michael does claim his kids; Michael does take care of me and the kids, " she said.
Dexter Grant, accused in the murder of a Dade garbage collector, smiled in court. He cracked his knuckles and stroked his thin beard. Job Israel lifted his arms and prayed. Rufus Pace looked blankly as the prosecutor identified him as the driver of a Yahweh "hit team" dispatched to kill two traitors.
Pace sat with his scarred hands folded serenely in his lap, broke and alone. Like other suspects, he had no money to hire a lawyer and no family to support him in court.
Most of the indicted followers couldn't give federal magistrates a confirmed address, a record of employment or evidence of property or assets. Some declined to give their "slave" names. All entered not-guilty pleas or stood mute to the charges.
"Don't be bashful, " Magistrate Peter Palermo told one short, slender follower. "Give your name and age."
"Anthony Murphy. 34, " the suspect replied. After high school, he got into bar brawls and fights with police. Once, "he was attacked by a group of Hispanics on the streets of Miami, " his lawyer, Thomas Buscaglia, told the magistrate.
In Yahweh, Murphy became Josiah, fire of the Lord. But Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Gertrude Novicki called him a coward hungering for acceptance.
His mother, Katrina Murphy, listened in shock. Novicki told how the Black Messiah began to push Murphy away because he had never proven himself.
Murphy told Yahweh followers he "was going to find a child and kill a child because that would be easier than dealing with a grown white male, " the prosecutor said. Then, one day, he "returned to the temple with what appeared to be an adult ear belonging to a white person. He put the ear in a bottle of alcohol, and he was blessed."
"I know my son, and he couldn't have done that, " said the mother. She offered to put up her $48,000 mortgaged house for bail. "He wasn't that brainwashed."
Novicki asked Yahvin Israel, born Douglas Howard, whether he'd ever heard Yahweh Ben Yahweh preach about the "Death Angels."
"I heard it mentioned, " said Howard, testifying as a character witness for Carl Perry. He had read about the angels, he added, in the Encyclopedia Britannica or the Bible.
Abril Israel, James Mack's wife of 22 years, described the Yahwehs as peaceful and her husband as a caring father. She got upset when prosecutor Scruggs suggested that Mack led a double life as a "Death Angel."
"I have a good husband, " she said angrily. "I don't know what you're trying to do. . . . You're trying to twist my mind."