By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Aryan Brotherhood members in an exhibit in the narcotics-trafficking trial of Michael "Big Mac" McElhiney, top right, who co-ran AB operations at the U.S. Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois. He is currently at the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown L.A., awaiting trial for conspiracy to murder AB associate Charles "Bubba" Leger.
Gregory Jessner shares roughly the same lifetime with the Aryan Brotherhood. He was 3 years old when they were founded in 1964 by Irish bikers in the exercise yard at San Quentin Maximum Security Prison, just 15 miles north of where he grew up. As a boy, he played with the children of Faye Stender, the radical defense attorney who was later paralyzed in an assassination attempt traced to the Black Guerrilla Family, another prison gang against whom, according to legend, the Aryan Brotherhood was formed to fight. Now, Jessner is preparing to face off against what is perhaps the most murderous and feared criminal gang in the country. Photos of Aryan Brotherhood members invariably reveal the same qualities: thick bull necks, massive forearms, tattoos of fierce Vikings, Nazi lightning bolts, and a distinctive shamrock enclosed in the claws of a swastika with “666” branded on its petals. Some have knit caps pulled low over their eyes; many sport peculiar, walruslike mustaches more befitting Civil War soldiers and Old West outlaws. They have whimsical, cartoon-derived nicknames: “The Hulk,” “Bart Simpson,” “Blinky,” “Speedy,” “Tweak.” Their eyes are invariably intense and defiant, glaring right through the camera and down the throats of anyone who looks at their picture for all time. Greg Jessner, on the other hand, is an athletically thin man in a wonkish dark suit, crisp dress shirt and unobtrusive tie; he walks briskly with a slight limp, the result of a teenage soccer injury that to this day requires physical therapy (“I would break under torture,” he jokes). The 43-year-old Assistant U.S. Attorney, who attended a middle school staffed entirely by jazz musicians and who was inspired to become a prosecutor after hearing a speech by Ralph Nader at Berkeley, wears no watch, reads TheNewYorkerand abstains from eating meat. His sparsely furnished office in the old U.S. Courthouse in downtown L.A. is hung with various awards he has won in his 15 years as a federal prosecutor, during which he successfully prosecuted the Compton Coxes (a family of drug dealers), two Jewish Defense League associates for plotting to bomb the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, and the notorious Eighteenth Street Gang that’s been terrorizing the Pico-Union area since the 1960s. On a black filing cabinet by his desk is a 1994 photo of Jessner shaking hands with Janet Reno, altered by a friend so that Jessner would not be so obviously dwarfed by the 6-foot-plus attorney general. On February 28th, Jessner will travel south to the Santa Ana Courthouse to begin the trial of his career and one of the most important trials you’ve never heard of. His 10-count, 110-page indictment alleges that over 23 years the Aryan Brotherhood (AB) ordered 32 murders both in and out of the federal prison system (with around a 50 percent success rate). Jessner is prosecuting the gang under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) act, which another U.S. prosecutor named Rudolph Giuliani used to take down the Gambino crime family in the 1980s. Using RICO is not a new tactic for targeting prison gangs — it’s already been used with success on the Mexican Mafia — but what makes Jessner’s approach unique is its sheer size and complexity. He is seeking the death penalty for 23 of the Aryan Brotherhood’s top leaders, the largest death-penalty indictment in the history of the American justice system.
Quiet, unassuming assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Jessner, a vegetarian and New Yorker reader, is throwing down the largest death- penalty indictment in the history of the American justice system. Photo by Ted SoquiThe case, due to its complexity and also because all the defendants cannot be held safely in one courtroom, will encompass four or five trials spread out across seven Southern California counties over the next couple years. The first seven defendants who will make their pleas this month in Orange County face non-capital RICO charges. One, Joseph Principe, is a former guard at a federal “Supermax” prison who allegedly arranged for the gang’s leaders to meet unobserved to discuss their affairs. Manuel “Larry” Jackson, a reputed member of the Mexican Mafia, allegedly beat and stabbed another inmate to within an inch of his life for merely making disparaging comments about the AB. Cleo Roy, who at the age of 16 killed a police officer, allegedly placed a noose around the neck of an inmate named Thomas Lamb while a fellow assassin hung him from the shelves in his cell to make it look like a suicide. Lamb’s offense: He had failed to carry out a murder for the AB while on parole and then had the misfortune of landing back in jail. The AB leaders were very patient. They allegedly issued the order for Lamb’s murder at the California Institution for Men at Chino in 1982. Lamb died in the federal penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, on October 15, 1988. The Aryan Brotherhood, in jail parlance, “had all day.”
Which is Jessner’s fundamental reason for pursuing the ultimate punishment for the gang’s leaders: How exactly do you deter prisoners serving long sentences from continuing to terrorize and kill? Here were cunning, intelligent and very, very pissed-off men who had no intention of leaving prison but instead consolidated their power within it. “They were a completely new facet of crime,” notes Mark Lillienfeld of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Division. Lillienfeld was on the prison-gang strike force that spearheaded a prior RICO investigation into the AB for the FBI in the 1980s, an investigation that the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles ultimately declined to prosecute. Now the lead detective on the Phil Spector murder case, Lillienfeld says part of the reason was the fact that the 40 murders they investigated over a 10-year period happened within prison, meaning the victims were “unappealing.” Law enforcement even has a term for such cases: “NHI” — “No Humans Involved.”
“The victims themselves were bad men,” says Lillienfeld. “A lot of people would think, ‘Good for them, shame on them.’ But I worked on that case for three years, and it was a real eye opener. You develop compassion for them. They weren’t that different from you or me. They had families, hopes, dreams — they just happened to turn left where you or I turned right.”
That’s putting it mildly. From one rather warped perspective, the United States, which spends around $60 billion annually on its prison and jail systems, has been getting its money’s worth: The AB are the most lethal killers this country has produced outside of Delta Force. They are one of the “Big Four” of prison-born gangs in the U.S. — all of which first formed in California. Over the years they have perfected a sort of asymmetrical warfare in dealing with prison authorities. Their fearsome propensity for violence — not merely at the drop of the watch cap but before the cap even hits the ground — has made them legends within the penal system. In a 1992 study from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Brotherhood constituted less than one-tenth of a percent of the inmate population in the federal system — yet they were responsible for 18 percent of all its homicides. In 1999, an FBI agent said under oath that the figure was closer to 25 percent.
What’s more, the law-enforcement and penal branches of state and federal governments have built bigger and bigger prisons to house the very supercriminals who train themselves for the “posture of battle” (as Angela Davis described it) almost in direct proportion to the amount of punitive pressure placed on them by The Man. In this respect, the AB has flourished in the most regimented and isolated maximum-security prisons on Earth, including the enormous mall-like Supermaxes. In fact, the entire concept of Supermaxes was born out of violence committed by AB members. In 1983, within an eight-hour period in the dreaded federal pen at Marion, Illinois, inmates Clayton Fountain and “Terrible Tom” Silverstein butchered two correctional officers named Robert Hoffman and Merle Clutts. Hoffman was stabbed 40 times and managed to save two other officers before dying in the arms of his son, also a guard at the prison. Both Silverstein and Fountain had gotten free of their shackles by using counterfeit keys passed to them by other AB members. Thing was, they were already in Control Unit H, a supposed “prison within a prison” built especially to house them.
The Aryan Brotherhood trials arrive at a time when California is confronting the demons of its prison system — a vast labyrinth of 98 facilities, 308,400 inmates and 54,000 employees — and its reform-minded Governator is issuing tautologies along the lines of “The purpose of corrections should be to correct.” In 2004, a declaration of emergency was made to deal with the overcrowding that had been forcing jails to triple-bunk inmates in two-person cells. (It was the fifth state of emergency in eight years.) Five inmates were killed in seven months at the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. Racial riots flared, including violent uprisings at Folsom State Prison in June 2004 and the privately run Eagle Mountain Community Correctional Facility on October 25, 2003 (where white, black and Latino inmates had 90 minutes to hack away at one another with knives and meat cleavers stolen from the kitchen while weaponless guards waited for armed backup from nearby state-run prisons). Just a few weeks ago, on January 10, 43-year-old guard Manuel A. Gonzalez Jr. was stabbed to death by gang-affiliated inmates at Chino, the first murder of a state correctional officer since 1996. And in an eerie echo of prison abuses abroad, investigators recently uncovered the Green Wall, a purported “secret society” of rogue Salinas Valley State Prison guards who turned their oath of silence into a perversion of misconduct and intimidation and were even able to infiltrate the prison’s Investigative Services Unit.
Dismantling the AB required the cooperation of four branches of law enforcement over six years and resulted in nearly 100 search warrants executed on homes, offices and jail cells in 12 states. But it began more like an old-time Western: a gunfight at dusk on Valentine’s Day. Michael Halualani, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), and two members of the L.A. County Sheriff’s now-defunct Career Criminals Division were staking out the Harbor City home of Russell Hinman, a recently paroled AB member who was wanted on an outstanding warrant. “He left and went to a service station, and we decided that it was safe to go ahead and try to arrest him,” recalls Halualani. “When two of the deputies approached him, he jumped in his van. When I tried to block him in, he rammed me, and at that point in time the shooting started.” Hinman, who produced a weapon, was shot twice by deputies; he still managed to smash past Halualani’s Explorer, hitting two other cars as he careened out onto the street. After that, it got very Cops— with Hinman leaping out of the van while it was still moving and attempting to flee on foot as his vehicle crashed into a parked car. Police dogs found him hiding underneath a tarp in a nearby backyard.
Halualani had known only tangentially about the Aryan Brotherhood before that night — essentially, from his training texts. “I thought it was going to be easier than that. He put up quite a fight, much more than I thought he was going to,” he says. “That was my first contact with them, and it kind of piqued my interest from then on.” In October 1995, under the aegis of Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Yang, Halualani began tracking the loose affiliation of safe houses and people who provided guns and drugs to AB members. He also tailed AB members when they were released on parole, setting up surveillance, trying to catch them in the act and then nailing them, one at a time.
The ATF is not as big, bulky or well-funded as the FBI; as a result, its agents tend to be lone wolves in temperament and tactics. Like Jessner, Halualani is also from the Bay Area, but his wiry sprinter’s frame and boyish-for-39 appearance belie a reputation of being a tough and adept multitasker. “I remember reading a quote from a book on the Texas Rangers,” he says. “One Riot,OneRanger— one agent goes out by himself. We don’t mind going belly to belly with the worst of the worst.” There’s something so calm in the way he says this that it doesn’t come off as a John Wayne like boast, but simply as a fact. Nevertheless, for his security, the ATF would not allow Halualani to be photographed for this story.
Greg Jessner came onboard the investigation in 1997 after Debra Yang left to become a Superior Court judge. His first encounter with the Aryan Brotherhood had been in 1992, when he was handed a file concerning the murder of a man named Arva Lee Ray at the U.S. Penitentiary in Lompoc, California. The man eventually convicted of the murder, Glenn Richard Filkins, was one of the strongest and toughest inmates in Lompoc’s 11 units. Ray, an AB associate, had not been getting along with the leadership. Apparently, he wouldn’t share his drugs and bunked with a “girlfriend” named Leroy Crone. Although the AB trafficked in “punks” or “fuck boys” (inmates who are not homosexual but are forced to work as indentured sex slaves), homosexuality is looked down upon as a violation of one of the AB’s sacred oaths — all of which seem to end with the proviso “punishable by death.”
So Glenn Filkins was asked to step up. At the trial, Jessner was able to show that Filkins tried to kill Ray twice on the same day — first by giving him a “hotshot” (a lethal dose of heroin); then, when that didn’t work, eliciting the aid of another inmate to throttle Ray with a garrote knotted together from strips of bedsheet. Leroy Crone tried to intervene, but when Filkins threatened him, Crone backed off — and was forced to stand by and listen as they strangled his “daddy” to death. “What [Crone] saw was more than just a prison murder, it was the evolution of a prison gang,” Jessner told the court in his bracing opening statement. “Because in effect, he saw the defendant entering the AB just as another was leaving it. He saw exactly what [the AB’s] slogan says: ‘blood in, blood out.’ ”
The slogan Jessner referred to was the AB’s own Nietzschean maxim that “a brother’s a brother, till that brother dies.” It was adopted around 1967, the year they adopted their current moniker as well as its virulently racist agenda: To join the ranks of the AB, one would have to murder a black inmate; to get out, one would have to be murdered oneself. Black and Hispanic prison gangs always relied on strength in numbers; the AB made up for their lesser ranks with pure ruthlessness and brutality, bestowing selective, Mensa-like membership based on each man’s physical strength and willingness to kill on sight. (Intelligence mattered too: The leaders read Machiavelli and Nietzche and Tolkien and that old standby of self-purpose, Mein Kampf.) Charles Manson was supposedly refused membership because he wasn’t violent enough. (“[The] AB . . . want [Manson] to kill a black because black is black,” Manson’s aide-de-camp Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme complained in a 1973 letter. “He will not do this and they are against him.”) When their cell doors opened each morning, AB members were expected to hunt down and attack black inmates whether or not they were part of a gang.
By 1970, the California Department of Corrections began to notice an alarming increase in gang-related violence: 79 assaults and 11 deaths were reported in that year alone. A year later, there were 123 assaults and 19 deaths; the year after that, 186 assaults and 34 deaths. The AB was not the sole culprit behind the increases, but it did earn a reputation for its zero-tolerance policy on “disrespect” from other inmates. They fought gladiator-style, which is essentially a simple but balletic street fight magnified — like everything else in prison — tenfold. A 10-second fight in prison is an eternity. In much less time, windpipes can be severed, jugulars torn out, spinal cords pierced and livers punctured. But the AB made a science of death: Their “warriors” studied anatomy texts in prison libraries to better understand parts of the human body that could be maimed for maximum effect.
In their interviews with prisoners all over the country, Halualani and Jessner could almost smell the fear and awe the Aryan Brotherhood instilled in their fellow inmates, probably the biggest hurdle both investigators would have to face in getting people to flip for the government. “If they wanted to kill me, they could, and it would be all right [for them],” an AB associate-turned-witness testified at the Filkins trial. “All the years I was associated with them, I never heard a story, much less witnessed anybody putting their hands on an AB member.”
“Do you know why?” Jessner asked him.
“Because they are going to get wicked,” the man replied. “They will cut your bars, they will kill you right in the hallway, and everybody knows it.”
Jessner, the quiet aesthete, and Halualani, the half-Japanese, half-Hawaiian surfer, claim they never had a dispute about the tactics needed to dismantle the Brotherhood. (“Nobody believes us when we say that,” says Halualani.) Those tactics would evolve as they began to see a frightening pattern: that maybe a handful of 20 or so AB members virtually ran the much larger prison populations in the federal system.
Sometime in the early 1970s, AB leaders signed a truce with the Mexican Mafia (“La Eme”) and agreed to unite in war against La Nuestra Familia, La Eme’s sworn enemies. Around the same time, the AB discovered capitalism — or capitalist expansion — when their members began to be convicted of federal crimes and sent to federal penitentiaries. By the late 1990s, according to FBI sources and court papers, top AB leaders David Sahakian, Michael McElhiney, Barry Byron Mills and Tyler Davis Bingham allegedly had established ties in the federal system with jailed Mafia crime bosses Oreste Abbamonte, “Little Nicky” Scarfo and the “Teflon Don” himself, John Gotti, who turned twice to the AB to carry out murder contracts. “I really didn’t understand how gangs allied themselves in prison, how these alliances go outside of prison,” says Halualani. “Within the indictment, we allege [the AB] to have aligned themselves with El Rukins, a black gang from Chicago — who would’ve thought? When it comes down to it, you can throw out those other [racist] ideologies. It’s all business to them, and they make no bones about it. This is business.”
The AB borrowed the Mafia’s code of omerta(silence): Their “lie or die” oath demanded that potential witnesses perjure themselves by denying any knowledge of the existence of the Brotherhood, a tactic that kept them largely shielded from law enforcement for decades. (Interestingly, mentioning prison gangs by name is against Federal Bureau of Prisons policy.) By the time the full range of the Brotherhood threat came to the attention of the FBI in 1983, they were no longer a gang of bloodthirsty honkies still fighting the prison race wars of the ’60s. Their early-’80s summit at the California Institute for Men at Chino was to the Aryan Brotherhood what Kuala Lumpur would be to al Qaeda — their coming out party. The fact that the 14 or so hardest of the hardcore AB members were housed in Palm Hall, the three-tiered Security Housing Unit (SHU, also described as “a prison within a prison”), was no freak accident of jurisprudence. Most of them had been subpoenaed (or “writted”) to Palm Hall in January 1981 to testify as defense witnesses in the murder trials of other AB members who were representing themselves in court. Inmates did this quite frequently — in fact, they joked about how easy it was to subpoena other inmates, as you did not have to show purpose to the judge. It was on the yard at Chino that they first spoke seriously of recruiting explosives experts, chemists, jailhouse lawyers, con men, and “soldiers” who would run scams and commit assassinations outside of prison. After all, they had their pick of the toughest inmates, especially the short-timers, who would be paroled soon and could extend the Brotherhood’s reach on the streets while the lifers sat in their cells and meted out singular forms of justice.
When Halualani visited Supermax prisons like Pelican Bay, he found the AB had adapted to them with startling acuity. The $84 million Northern California gulag, built in 1989 to house “the worst of the worst” of violent offenders, has earned its 1,056-bed SHU (or “The Shoe”) a place alongside Kenya and Saddam’s Iraq in a 1996 U.N. human-rights report citing “inhuman” prison facilities around the world. Prisoners spend 23 hours a day locked in whitewashed 11-foot-by-7-and-a-half-foot concrete pods where they can’t see other prisoners or the guards watching their every move from a central observation booth. Nevertheless, during Halualani’s investigation, a local prosecutor characterized the presence of an estimated 50 AB members at Pelican Bay as a “reign of terror.” They enlisted paroled inmates to become drug dealers, gun smugglers and stickup men. They used the Law Library to pass homemade weapons — in one case, tearing out a part of the library’s steel ceiling and replacing it with an artfully rendered cardboard replica — and coded messages so complex and arcane that FBI cryptoanalysts were required to decipher them. They used a vast system of post-office boxes, untraceable money orders and “point persons” on the outside to smuggle their drugs (including methamphetamine, heroin and liquid steroids) and collect on gambling debts owed them.
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.’ ”
And yet Halualani and Jessner say the crazy vein that runs through the AB has also led to their downfall. Allen “Slim” Hawley was an AB associate at Leavenworth who wound up testifying against leaders there after he could “smell the blood” — meaning he feared he was about to be killed by them. A cache of “kites” (secret prison messages passed between inmates) found in Hawley’s cell reveals he had reason to worry: One criticized him for sharing heroin he’d managed to get into the Shoe with other inmates: “You’re going to bring the beast out of me. Fuck everybody except us, you hear?” Another admonished him for failing to seal the kites correctly: “You better wise up, foolio. This ain’t time for your goofy ass behavior.”
“They have difficulty in keeping their members loyal,” says Jessner. “There are many letters we intercepted from the top leaders expressing frustration over the AB members who are supposed to ‘keep polishing the rock’ on the outside, as they say, but aren’t getting the job done.” He adds it takes a paroled AB member about six months to get “the beast” out of their system, after which they usually come to the conclusion, WhatthehellwasIthinking?
The untold number of man-hours Jessner and Halualani have sunk into this case, with the help of many confidential informants from the AB’s own ranks, could itself be a potential minefield. “Most of your witnesses have something of concern in their background, so you have to be careful,” Jessner admits, citing the 1993 El Rukins debacle in Chicago, where most of the 30 major convictions of the gang’s leadership were tossed out due to accusations of prosecutorial misconduct. It took three trials to convict AB chief Michael “Big Mac” McElhiney, feared heroin baron of Leavenworth; the first trial resulted in a hung jury that was complicated when a female juror fell in love with the accused. Even after the final verdict, McElhiney, who acted as his own counsel, drew praise from the presiding judge: “This was a difficult case that was well tried on both sides . . . Mr. McElhiney did an excellent job of representing himself.” McElhiney further represented himself in a five-page letter to TheTopekaCapital-Journal,writing, “Despite popular assertion . . . No man’s life has been lost by my hand or command.”
Meanwhile, the outcomes of recent AB-related trials have been more encouraging. In April 2003, after pleading guilty to various drug and RICO charges, five lower-level members and one associate were given sentences ranging from 7 to 14 years. Five months later, Paul “Cornfed” Schneider, a gang chieftain at Pelican Bay, drew life in prison for conspiracy in the 1995 murder of Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy Frank Trejo. A month after that, in Texas, Jerry Michael Walters (called “Iron Man” by his AB cohorts) was handed 33 years for his role in the grisly execution-style murder of 28-year-old Joe Uridales at the San Padre Island National Seashore.
In the Santa Ana trial, no one can get more than 20 years, but, says Jessner, “If we are able to get the death penalty for the leadership, I hope it would make membership in the AB a lot less attractive. Another reason I’m hopeful is, as far as I know, the AB had been slowed down much as of late; it’s been pretty quiet [since the indictments].” But “quiet” is a relative term. Things at the West Valley Detention Center in San Bernardino, where much of the AB leadership is housed, have been recently described as “extremely tense.” And in December, Michael Bruce Shepherd, an AB member who had recently pleaded guilty to a lesser RICO charge, was found hung in his cell at the Santa Ana Central Jail. It appeared to be a suicide, but his death is under grand-jury review.
After meeting Jessner, one cannot help but wonder if he is concerned for his ownsafety. Michael McElhiney, the man said to have ordered the first-ever murder in Leavenworth’s supposedly impenetrable “hole,” sits in a single cell at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown L.A., a block away from the prosecutor’s office. One of Jessner’s colleagues expressed interest in working on the Aryan Brotherhood case but begged off after his wife grew fearful for his safety. “I’m not all that concerned,” Jessner maintains. “I have no reason to think that they would come after me. Even if they did, there are 10,000-plus federal prosecutors. Someone would just rise to replace me.”
Mike Halualani, for his part, claims the Aryan Brotherhood cost him his hair.
BarryByron Mills (a.k.a. “The Baron” or “McB”)
An AB founder. Indicted for racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder — as well as actually carrying one out, the 1979 near-decapitation of inmate John Mazloff (for allegedly cheating fellow AB leader “Terrible Tom” Silverstein in a drug deal). Eligible for the death penalty.
Tyler Davis Bingham
(a.k.a. “T.D.” or “The Hulk”)
An AB leader. Accused of ordering the murders and assaults of AB enemies and dropouts. Eligible for the death penalty.Richard Lloyd Terflinger
(a.k.a. “Bart Simpson”)
AB jailhouse lawyer. Eligible for the death penalty for conspiracy in the 1983 assassination of Temple City resident Richard “Lefty” Barnes because Barnes’ son Steven had testified against an AB member.Ronald Boyd Slocum
(a.k.a. “Slo” or “McCool”)
Prominent member who allegedly provided recently released AB members and associates with tasks to perform outside of prison. Alleged to have participated in murders for the AB as well as narcotics trafficking. Eligible for the death penalty.Glenn Richard Filkins
Indicted for possessing an AB “oath” and a list of purported AB enemies who were targeted for assassination. Previously sentenced to life for the garroting of fellow prisoner Arva Lee “Baby” Ray.Joseph Principe
Former correctional officer for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, accused of arranging meetings between AB leaders. Previously incarcerated on charges of kidnapping and assault.
(a.k.a. “Elroy” or “Cow Hampshire”)
At the age of 16, killed a police officer. While at the U.S. Penitentiary at Marion, allegedly murdered another AB member, Thomas Lamb, who had run afoul of the organization.Mark Alan Nyquist
(a.k.a. “Big Mark” or “Mark Owen”)
A member of both the California and federal factions who allegedly was in charge of narcotics trafficking for the AB at Leavenworth.Donald Edward Kennedy
An associate of the AB once incarcerated in the U.S. Penitentiary at Atlanta on kidnapping charges. Accused of murdering an AB member who had failed to follow the organization’s rules.Manuel “Larry” Jackson
Reputed member of the Mexican Mafia, allegedly beat and stabbed another inmate to within an inch of his life for making disparaging comments about the AB.Steven William Hicklin
Originally incarcerated in Colorado on charges of bank robbery. Accused of attempted murder for repeatedly stabbing inmate Jeffrey Barnett.Christopher Overton Gibson
Accused of attempted murder for restraining inmate Jeff Barnett while Steven Hicklin stabbed him. Last year, Gibson assaulted a Sheriff’s deputy while incarcerated at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga. Eligible for death penalty.