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Religion called Yoism plays role in appeal

By CAROL DEMARE Staff Writer

Published: 01:00 a.m., Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A little known religion — Yoism — figured into an appeals court opinion this month in which one judge dissented because a witness, one of the faith's founders, was questioned extensively about his religious beliefs in a case involving a repeat sex offender.

The witness, psychologist Daniel Kriegman, who has experience in treating and diagnosing sex offenders in Massachusetts, was called on behalf of the sex offender, identified as Andrew O.

Andrew O. appealed to the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court the determination by acting Supreme Court Justice Harry W. Seibert of Saratoga County, following a bench trial, that Andrew was a dangerous sex offender and should be confined to a secure treatment facility. Before the bench trial, a jury trial was held in which the panel determined Andrew suffered from a mental abnormality.

Kriegman and two other witnesses testified at both trials. His testimony regarding Andrew's propensity to commit another sex crime and the state's contention that he needed civil management under New York's Mental Hygiene Law contradicted that of two mental health experts called by Assistant Attorney General Kathleen M. Treasure.

Those witnesses, Dr. Christine Rackley, a psychiatrist and member of the Office of Mental Health's case review team, and Roger Harris, a forensic psychologist, both concluded Andrew suffered from a mental abnormality. Rackley said Andrew had “serious difficulty controlling his pedophile predilections.” Harris said Andrew suffered from pedophilia and antisocial personality disorder.

Kriegman, however, testified Andrew's scores on a test indicated a “moderate to low-risk of reconviction.” Kriegman said Andrew did not suffer from a mental abnormality.

On appeal, Andrew, who was represented by Sheila E. Shea of Mental Hygiene Legal Service, said he was denied a fair trial on various grounds, one of which was misconduct by the lawyer for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in her cross-examination of Kriegman on Yoism.

Four justices on the five-member panel agreed with their dissenting colleague that questioning Kriegman about his religious beliefs was improper and had “no place in either a criminal or civil trial.” But it “did not substantially influence the jury's verdict” and did not warrant a new trial.

Yoism, described as an “open-source religion” that was founded in 1994 and follows beliefs created through a continuous process of refinement and dialogue among the believers in comparison to traditional religions, which Yoans consider authoritarian and hierarchical.

Followers claim their version of open source religion does not have allegiance to any spiritual guide. Instead, they believe the sense of authority emerges from the group via consensus.

Justice Robert S. Rose of Broome County, in his brief but blistering dissent, noted that despite repeated objections, the court allowed extensive questioning of Kriegman regarding his affiliation with Yoism. He was asked if Yoism was an online religion and “whether any sports stars were considered to be saints, thereby emphasizing its differences from the religions with which the jurors would likely have been familiar,” Rose wrote.

While the attorney questioning the psychologist said it was an important part of Kriegman's life experience and played a role in his professional opinions, Rose called the questioning “patently irrelevant to any issue in the proceeding.”

“Such questioning can only be viewed as an improper attempt to challenge Kriegman's credibility based upon his religious beliefs and such a tactic has no place in either a civil or a criminal trial,” Rose wrote in calling for a new jury trial.

The decision requiring Andrew be placed in civil confinement was upheld.

Carol DeMare can be reached at 454-5431 or by e-mail at

But the highest court in New York overturned this decision, striking a blow for freedom of religion.