FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Four members of the Yahweh sect have been sentenced to up to 16 years in prison for murders orchestrated by a former pro football player who founded a religious sect claiming that blacks are the true sons of Israel.
U.S. District Judge Norman Roettger Jr. handed down the sentences Friday. The defendants were convicted in May on one count of federal racketeering conspiracy and faced up to 20 years in prison.
Walter Lightburn, who was accused during the five-month trial of helping murder three men and trying to kill a woman, was sentenced to 16 years.
His attorney, Steve Kassner, asked for leniency because Lightburn had no prior criminal record and was a longtime employee of Florida Power and Light Co.
Lightburn, 43, who took the sect name Amri Israel, cares for his two sons by himself.
'I think he's a good man,' Kassner said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Scruggs, however, portrayed Lightburn as a leader in the sect and a coldblooded killer who tried to decapitate Mildred Banks with a machete in 1981. Banks survived.
Robert Beasley, whose sect name is Dan Israel, was convicted of fatally shooting Banks' boyfriend, Carlton Carey, and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Banks and Carey, originally part of the black Hebrew Israelite sect, were targeted for murder when they left the group, prosecutors said.
Rufus Pace, who was accused of driving the getaway car for Beasely and Lightburn during the killing, was sentenced to 15 years. His sect name is Ahaz Israel.
The fourth defendant, Ernest Lee James, also known as Ahinidad Israel, was sentenced to 16 years.
The judge called the crimes 'brutal' but said there were indications the sect members had 'cleaned up their act' after 1986.
Yahweh Ben Yahweh, who as Hulon Mitchell Jr. played for St. Louis and Oakland in the National Football League, and two other sect members are to be sentenced next week for one racketeering conspiracy count and face up to 20 years in prison.
The Yahwehs were accused of killing 14 people from 1981 to 1985. Prosecutors said some of the murders were carried out to enforce discipline in the group, while others were random killings of 'white devils' ordered by Yahweh to retaliate for discrimination against blacks.
Seven followers were acquitted and the jury failed to reach a verdict for two others.
The sect teaches that Yahweh is the messiah and literal son of God and that blacks are the only true descendents of Israel.