As a service to those following the Lev Tahor proceedings, we present a synopsis of the first day of the United States vs Malka trial.
Background and context - the Malkas dismiss representation
Matityahu and Mordechay Malka are on trial for, among other accusations, successfully kidnapping two children from their mother (who had escaped the Lev Tahor cult), and after the children were rescued, attempting to abduct them again. And then again. For more details, see this court document.
Prior to the trial, numerous rulings as to what would be allowed at the hearings were set. They can be read at the "motions in limine" section of this court document and in this court document. Rulings relevant to day 1 will be detailed below. They also requested (just before jury selection) that Judge Nelson S Roman recuse himself. The request was denied.
Finally, against Justice Roman's repeated advice, the Malkas insisted on representing themselves. Justice Roman stressed that he would treat them as he would any other litigator, and assigned two standby councils to assist them.
Prior to the jurors' arrival - the Malkas attempt an already-denied strategy
Mordechai and Matityahu Malka made numerous motions of reconsideration but were unable to provide arguments supporting their requests, which were denied.
Our analysis is that the Malkas had prepared a strategy similar to what the Weingartens unsuccessfully attempted. Their angle was that they were rescuing children purportedly being abused by their mother. However, that strategy was knocked down during the pretrial as that would require an admission of guilt (and they had already pled not guilty), and they were unable to supply any evidence of the alleged abuse. It is worth noting that these are arguments that had already been denied in the trials of other members involved in the abductions.
For over 30 minutes the Malkas tried to find a way to be granted permission to discuss the abuse, to no avail. The judge did point out that numerous requests from the government had also been denied, for example using the term "forced" when referring to underage marriages in Lev Tahor.
The Malkas also tried squeezing in an untranslated 1,000 or so page document written only in Yiddish but it was ruled inadmissible.
The prosecution's opening statement - a mother's worst fear keeps happening
Finally, the jury was brought in and the opening statements began. The prosecution painted a picture of a single mom of 6 discovering that two of her children had been kidnapping (it's worth noting that the kidnapping was done using cell phones and a vehicle at 3am on a Friday night), waiting anxiously for two weeks as the FBI tracked her children, and then facing two more kidnap attempts.
Prosecutor Jamie Ellen Bagliebter promised to provide evidence demonstrating Sara Helbrans' story. Daughter of the founder of Lev Tahor, she lived with the cult in their isolated Guatemalan compound. After her father's suspicious death, her brother took over and decided to marry Sara's daughter to an older boy at the age of 13.
While the cult had married girls at young ages, this time it hit home. They had never tried to marry a girl that young. Sara objected to the match but was overruled by her brother. After her daughter's wedding, she decided to flee and made it to New York with 6 children, receiving a court order granting her full custody.
Prosecutor Bagliebter gave a synopsis of the kidnapping attempts and the role of the Malkas in the crimes. She promised to provide evidence using audio, video, photos, and witnesses, including testimony from someone on the inside who had participated in the abductions to an extent and decided to work with the government.
Mordechai Malka's opening statement - breaking rules repeatedly
Presenting himself as a family man, Mordechai's opening statement was a long ramble filled with promises of "only sharing the truth." He blasted the "corrupt government" who didn't try to seek out the true story (in our estimation he was clearly trying to find a way to pursue his original strategy of alleging that they were trying to "rescue" the children from domestic abuse).
Numerous times he pushed the limit, and had to be warned by Justice Roman. He briefly tried portraying the team of kidnappers as "caring family members trying to save innocent kids," and was asked to approach the bench.
It was when he launched into a statement that "one month earlier, the kids were living happily in Lev Tahor, but their nightmare began when they moved out -" that Justice Roman interrupted his statement and asked to jurors to step aside.
The judge had a Yiddish translator brought in as he explained once again what was inadmissible. He warned that if Mordechai continues his behaviour, he will be forbidden from addressing the court.
As it was getting late, he decided to end the proceedings for the day. He advised the Malkas to meet with their standby council to go over their opening statement. Then he called in the jurors and asked them to strike what they had heard from Mordechai from their minds.
Day two report to come. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, you can follow the proceedings on a daily basis at 9am by dialing 1-877-336-1839 and entering access code 1231334#.
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