By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Most of all, they killed lots of people in the most hideous ways possible. Since 1996, six out of eight murders of Pelican Bay inmates and two deaths on the outside — including the murders of a Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy and a Palm Springs drug dealer — were traced back to members of that prison’s Aryan Brotherhood faction, men who were supposedly neutralized by their surroundings. Even correctional officers at Pelican Bay were discovered collaborating with AB members to target “rapos” (rapists) and “chesters” (child molesters) with beatings and murder. One of them admitted to attempting to procure a guard’s uniform for an AB leader.
“This guy at Pelican Bay told me that he and his cellmate would exercise up to four or five hours a day,” says Jessner. “It stayed with me sort of as a vision of Hell: They are in these tiny little concrete cells; one of them is running vigorously in place while the other one’s doing ‘burpees’ — sort of like jumping jacks mixed with push-ups — for hoursevery day.” As a result, most AB members can break their restraints, as Jessner demonstrates by putting his wrists together. “They use one of the cuffs as leverage to break open the other cuff.” Five years ago, an AB member named Jeff Milton went berserk in a Los Angeles courtroom, breaking his cuffs and pitching a TV across the room.
Particularly troublesome were those inmates — the “associates,” “peckerwoods” and “wannabes” — who sought to court the AB’s favor. Typical is a meticulously planned rampage following weeks of racial violence in the federal pen at Marion, Illinois. Brotherhood leaders there had issued a “formal declaration of war” and used coded phone calls and messages written in invisible ink (some utilizing a subtle double alphabet invented in 1652 by the philosopher Sir Francis Bacon) to issue war directives to other AB members and associates in the federal pen at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. On August 28, 1997, four AB assassins slipped into a cell block and fanned out across the tiers in a coordinated attack, stabbing to death two inmates and severely wounding four others. Nearly all the victims were members of the AB’s nemesis, the D.C. Blacks. The attack was brazen, committed in full view of guards, inmates and security cameras.
Jessner says the AB uses murders like these as messages to both rivals and prison authorities: They are utterly unafraid of consequences. “[Wayne] Bridgewater goes by himself into a cell filled with about three or four D.C. Black gang members — one was even a white guy,” he recalls almost admiringly. “He stabbed one to death and seriously wounded another; he came out of the cell covered in blood. It wasn’t stealthy at all, they didn’t make an attempt to hide it.” A month later, the three associates who backed up the attack were quietly rewarded with AB membership.
Then, ultimately, there were the nightmares of inmates who had forged a check or held up a liquor store and justwantedtodotheirtimeandbeleftaloneand were systematically pulled into being punks, drug couriers or accomplices to murder. Jessner recalls Glenn Filkins’ co-defendant, Thomas Leroy Miller, a tall, longhaired and soft-spoken inmate. Miller was a bit of an artistic type; he had talents in music and did most of the ornate tattoos for AB members. What got him into prison was bank robbing, not killing. Yet he was the man who had lain across “Baby” Ray’s legs as Filkins choked him from behind.
“As Miller described it, Ray is looking him straight in the eyes as the life is draining from him,” says Jessner. “And remember, Miller had no desire to be involved in this — he’s just tapped on the shoulder by Filkins and didn’t think he could say no to the AB. I remember the courtroom being very, very silent, because Miller started crying and said something to effect that ‘I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life but I’ve never killed anybody.’ It was clear he was shaken by it.” Miller received an additional sentence of 14 years for the murder of Arva Lee Ray. Filkins got life. He was said to have hung a photograph of Ray on his cell wall and celebrated his new AB membership with prison-made liquor.
Jessner would meet Filkins again — he is one of the nine defendants in Orange County, accused, among other things, of possessing photographs of Brotherhood enemies who allegedly were about to be hit. At the time he murdered “Baby” Ray, there was no federal death-penalty statute. By the time Jessner was brought on the AB case, a new federal death-penalty statute signed by President Clinton equipped the Department of Justice with an automatic death-eligible review process. It was Jessner who suggested using RICO as a way to pursue a swift decapitation strike against the Aryan Brotherhood leadership. “I thought about it for a long time,” Jessner says. “The force of the logic kept growing on me . . . that this was what made sense against this particular group of people.”
Of the 40 original defendants, 30 are already serving long sentences within the prison system. “What do you have left?” says Jessner. “Prison is where these guys live. If people expect to live the rest of their lives in prison anyway, why not aspire to be an AB member? You’re at the top. One of them — I think it was Allen Hawley — even said, ‘It’s not a bad life.’ ”