Jury convicts 4 in Aryan Brotherhood murder, racketeering case
SANTA ANA, Calif. – A jury convicted four leaders of a white-supremacist prison gang Friday on charges they used murder and intimidation to protect their drug-dealing operations behind bars.The trial is part of one of the largest federal capital cases, with more than a dozen people potentially facing the death penalty. More defendants face trials in Los Angeles later this year.Barry “The Baron” Mills, Tyler “The Hulk” Bingham, Edgar “The Snail” Hevle and Christopher Overton Gibson were the first defendants to stand trial in the federal racketeering case aimed at dismantling the feared Aryan Brotherhood.They all were convicted under Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law, and offenses known as Violent Crime In Aid of Racketeering. Mills and Bingham are eligible for the death penalty.Mills, Bingham and Hevle also were convicted of a murder count for the killing of Arva Lee Ray, a prisoner slain at the Lompoc, Calif., penitentiary in 1989.Mills and Bingham were acquitted of a murder count in the death of another inmate, William McKinney.The death penalty phase against Mills and Bingham was scheduled to begin Aug. 15 with the same jury. Sentencing for Hevle and Gibson was set for Oct. 23. They face 20 years to life in prison.”We’re disappointed and now we move on to the next phase,” said Mark Fleming, Mills’ lawyer.Hevle’s attorney, Bernard Rosen, said he was “shocked.” He said there was little evidence against his client.The defendants were charged in an indictment detailing murders and attempted murders involving members of the Aryan Brotherhood over three decades.During the four-month trial, the jury heard testimony from convicted killers, former gang members and jailhouse informants. Some testified they had been involved in murder plots hatched by the gang to kill those who violated its rules.Defense attorneys countered that prosecutors built their case on a “parade of perjurers” who were promised money and reduced prison sentences for their testimony.They said the defendants had to seek membership in the gang as a way to survive in the violent world of prison.Since its founding in 1964 at San Quentin in California, the Aryan Brotherhood has infiltrated nearly every federal and state prison and devised a number of means for members to stay in touch.In the current case, government witnesses testified about a secret note, written in invisible ink made from urine, that was passed from Bingham’s high-security cell in Florence, Colo., to Lewisburg, Pa., where the race war occurred.Prosecutors argued it was an order to incite a race war at the Pennsylvania facility. Defense attorneys said the note was merely a warning to other gang members.Some witnesses testified about a plot to kill an inmate who had assaulted mob leader John Gotti in prison. Testimony indicated Gotti had paid the brotherhood for protection.One witness said Gotti offered to pay $500,000 for the hit; another testified he had been passed bullets to hide until the gang could fashion a zip gun to shoot Gotti’s attacker.The hit never occurred. Gotti died in prison in 2002.During the trial, the defendants’ feet were chained to the floor – something hidden from the jury by a high wooden panel. The judge also ordered all inmate witnesses to be chained to the floor to prevent fights.Mills is serving two life terms for murder after nearly decapitating an inmate. Bingham is behind bars on robbery and drug charges.Prosecutors spent six years compiling evidence and relied on informants for much of their case.The complexity of the case was illustrated by the verdict form. The panel had to answer nearly 80 questions involving eight murders, eight attempted murders and drug trafficking. Most of the killings were covered under racketeering law – questions referred to “acts involving murder” – rather than as specific murder counts.Of the 40 people originally arrested, more than a dozen could get the death penalty if convicted. Nineteen defendants struck plea bargains and one died. Two more trials are scheduled for this fall in Los Angeles.—Associated Press writer Gillian Flaccus contributed to this report.