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Case In Death Of Muslim Minister In Hands Of Judge

By Starla Muhammad -Managing Editor- | Last updated: Nov 20, 2017 - 10:19:56 AM

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From left to right: Yreva Muhammad, Atty. Sadiyah Evangelista Karriem, Atty. Berve Power Muhammad and Atty. Abdul Arif Muhammad during Nov. 7 hearing in wrongful death lawsuit in the case of Robert Dion Muhammad. Attorneys for the defendants argued to have the case dismissed. Photos: Warren Muhammad / First Work Media
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.—After an exhaustive process that included several court appearances, over 40 depositions, 9,000 pages of deposition transcripts, 350 pages of legal briefs, 75 subpoenas and 107 motions filed, the decision on whether the wrongful death lawsuit in the tragic death of Nation of Islam Student Minister Robert Dion Muhammad will proceed to trial is in the hands of a judge

A packed courtroom that included Student Min. Muhammad’s widow Yreva, his mother Carla, family, friends and a delegation from the Nation of Islam sat quietly, observing the day-long Nov. 7 hearing where both sides presented final arguments before Judge J. John Rossi at the Kent County Circuit Court in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Defense attorneys during recent hearing.
Judge Rossi will decide in writing within 30 days if the civil case will be dismissed or if there are enough unanswered questions or sufficient evidence that the 39-year-old’s death may not have simply been the result of an accidental drowning and proceed to a jury trial. The judge conceded it was one of the most complex and thoroughly investigated cases he had ever been involved in.

“Either Robert Muhammad went down injured or he didn’t. Either Robert Muhammad went down uninjured or he didn’t,” Attorney Berve Power Muhammad told Judge Rossi during his rebuttal to the Motion for Summary Disposition arguments filed by the team of lawyers representing multiple defendants. They have been actively seeking a dismissal of the lawsuit. Mr. Power Muhammad represents Yreva Muhammad.   

Student Minister Robert Dion Muhammad
The body of Robert Muhammad, a husband, son, brother, father of eight and local Nation of Islam representative was pulled from Muskegon Lake in Grand Rapids on Sept. 6, 2014 on what would have been his 40th birthday, after he attended an outing with co-workers. The co-workers said Robert Muhammad was swimming back to a boat owned by one of the men, when he disappeared under water, never resurfacing. Authorities did not conduct a criminal investigation, nor did they examine the boat.   

Yreva Muhammad, her legal representatives as well as several members of Robert Muhammad’s family and supporters do not think his death was an accident but that something more nefarious contributed to his death and that his co-workers are responsible. They want to get to the truth of what really happened.  

“We are here because this gentleman didn’t come home,” said Atty. Power Muhammad as he gestured toward a photo of a smiling Robert Muhammad projected onto the courtroom wall.

The lawsuit alleges that sometime during the outing, it is likely the defendants assaulted and battered Robert Muhammad. When his body was recovered from the lake nearly 24-hours after he disappeared, there were noticeable bruises and injuries to his face that were more consistent with blunt force trauma than from injuries sustained from drowning, the lawsuit noted.

Throughout court proceedings multiple attorneys representing defendants Bertrand Thibault, Daniel Moore, Michael Champrenault, Nicholas Pelfrene, William Gresley, Matthew Kamps and Sebastien Lebon described the lawsuit as frivolous, using terms like “fishing expedition,” “fallacious ” and “grasping at straws,” during arguments.

A packed courtroom in Grand Rapids, Mich. listens to final arguments in a Motion for Summary Disposition hearing in the wrongful death lawsuit of Robert Dion Muhammad. Photos: Warren Muhammad / First Work Media

They state Robert Muhammad went on the work outing as a willing participant, there was no animosity or animus between him and the other men, that their clients have cooperated and that there are no facts to support allegations of foul play.

Richard Radke Jr., a lawyer for three of the defendants told the judge that there was “plenty of evidence of cooperation,” by the men. He conceded that law enforcement officials did not go on or in the boat to investigate since the defendants told authorities what they said happened.

“In hindsight it may have been a good idea, but they would not have found anything,” Atty. Radke insisted. 

Atty. Deborah Lujan, speaking on behalf of her client Nicholas Pelfrene told Judge Rossi that “all drowning cases are curious,” that Robert Muhammad could have suffered a cramp in his leg and again as in prior proceedings, questioned the motive of the Nation of Islam in the case.

“We all agree it is unfortunate … all of the parties have been victims in this situation,” she stated. 

As in prior hearings on the case, Atty. Power Muhammad methodically and meticulously presented several key issues he argued refuted allegations that what happened was a mere accident, including the injuries to Robert Muhammad’s face as well as other conflicting information.  

Defense Atty. Deborah Lujan
“Loss of money does not compare to the loss of life,” said Atty. Power Muhammad. “We have undertaken it (case) because it is the most serious type of case, which is the loss of life.”

He pointed out conflicting distances from the boat where Robert Muhammad was said to have disappeared underwater. “Why would someone go say Robert Muhammad went down 90 feet from the boat if he went down two to three feet from the boat?” he asked.

During a particularly riveting portion of his presentation, Atty. Power Muhammad pointed to graphic photos of the young, student minister’s bruised face and scratched upper body after he was pulled from the water and photos while he lay on the medical examiner’s table.

There are conflicting statements from aquatic experts on whether the facial abrasions, eye swelling, swollen lip and chin abrasion were all caused by fish or other wildlife under the water or from Robert Muhammad’s face possibly bumping into something on the lake bottom.

“One forensic pathologist expert said the injuries to the face of Robert Muhammad are unusual for drowning cases and if he would have been responsible for the case he would have treated the case as a possible homicide,” Atty. Power Muhammad argued. An abrasion found under the chin that was not noted by any of the pathologists during examination of the body is also significant and is consistent with strangulation, the counselor noted.

“If Robert Muhammad went down to the bottom of Muskegon Lake and there were currents strong enough to drag him, he should have abrasions consistent with that,” he added.  

“In three years and two months, no one made mention of that chin abrasion,” said Atty. Power Muhammad.

Yreva Muhammad sat attentively and unflinching during the hearing.

Attorney Berve Power Muhammad presents argument at Nov. 7 hearing.
What has remained constant, throughout the long ordeal of pursuing justice for Robert Muhammad is her unwavering faith and diligence, said Atty. Sadiyah Evangelista Karriem.

“Her steadfastness has been remarkable. One thing about Sister Yreva, no matter what has been thrown at her during this process, at all times where her faith lies is in Allah (God),” said Atty. Evangelista Karriem, who serves on Yreva Muhammad’s legal team.

 Atty. Power Muhammad agreed and spoke about the importance of faith during difficult times.

“We’re taught to seek refuge in Allah (God) from quite honestly, anything that ails us, troubles us or disturbs us and therefore as we commit ourselves to be Believers in Allah in the Person of Master Fard Muhammad, we have to know that circumstances and situations will come into our lives that will challenge us but if we are Believers we will turn to Allah even more which then will bring us close to Him which then can have the end result of allowing us to enter into peace,” explained Atty. Power Muhammad.

“The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said once, that if we accept Allah’s will we enter into peace and he added something to that and he said when we’ve done all we can, and we accept Allah’s will we enter into peace. In this case, Sister Yreva has exhibited extraordinary strength, exemplary courage and Mother Carla has exhibited the same when she’s looking at her child being pulled from that water, dead and having to call on Allah in the Person of Master Fard Muhammad for strength and she has,” he added.

When asked by The Final Call to share his assessment of the Nov. 7 hearing Atty. Power Muhammad said, the legal team has no idea how the judge will rule. “I’ve learned to not try and predict, but simply wait until we see what the ruling is and then govern yourself from there,” he said.

There is a great deal of information that must be reviewed in this case, said Atty. Evangelista Karriem.

“You have five briefs that were filed, five responses that were filed, five replies that were filed, voluminous case law, voluminous facts, now he (the judge) has to go over the transcript from today’s hearing, so 30 days is reasonable,” she added.

If the judge rules in favor of Yreva Muhammad, then both sides will prepare to proceed to a jury trial. If the judge rules in favor of the defendants to dismiss the case, the plaintiff can choose to file an appeal. 

Yreva Muhammad (right), widow of Robert Dion Muhammad, outside Grand Rapids courtroomafter final arguments before a judge in wrongful death claim. Photo: Starla Muhammad
“We have literally exhausted ourselves physically, mentally, intellectually on this case to do all that we could do so that no matter what happens, insha’Allah (God willing) we will accept Allah’s will with the right spirit and therefore enter into peace,” said Atty. Power Muhammad.

“What you see with respect to Sister Yreva, though it is emotionally challenging and taxing and particularly one, to look at your husband on that screen, dead; and then to hear comments that border on the insensitive in their advocacy for their own clients,” he added.

“What you see though is by all accounts a degree of peace that has come over her. Because she sits there with her Holy Qur’an and she will pull it out in the middle of a hearing to seek guidance, comfort. She is exemplifying what it is to be a Believer when faced with the most challenging trial you will have which is the death of a loved one.”