By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
In 2005, then–Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Jessner said the only way to break the gang was to seek the death penalty against its members for its frequent killings inside prisons. Adding time to already-lengthy sentences did nothing — the gang leaders still found ways to order murders in jail, Jessner said.
Jessner and a team of attorneys obtained a federal racketeering indictment against 40 Aryan Brotherhood members and their associates, 21 of whom were up for the death penalty — the biggest death penalty case in U.S. history. Yet in L.A. late last month, within 24 hours of the secret two-day trial that Wilson insisted upon, Wilson ruled that the government was not culpable for Krugel’s slaying. Even Wilson’s legal basis for the decision is under seal and a secret — and lawyers for the Los Angeles Times are challenging the blackout.
“The bar for winning prison-conditions challenges is extremely high,” notes Sharon Dolovich, a UCLA Law School professor. “Legal standards put a very strong tilt on the scale [in favor of] correctional officers.” Among judges, she says there is a “strong tendency to defer to prison officials.”
Speaking in general, Dolovich says that if a prisoner is known to have targeted white supremacists, prison officials have an obligation to protect that prisoner, who could easily be singled out by the white supremicists, who are common inside prisons.
Judge Wilson knew Jennings had been classified as a skinhead, but before the trial he ruled, “there was no indication” that any inmates were threatening Krugel with ‘bodily harm.’ ” He dismissed the widow’s contention that prison officials should have tried to protect Krugel simply because other prisoners believed a false rumor that Krugel had attempted to “blow up mosques, but he fucked up by blowing up a skinhead shack instead.”
“I think that’s absurd,” Dolovich says of the judge’s ruling. All the news headlines over Krugel and Rubin’s botched conspiracy, “would be sufficient to create a threat” to Krugel inside the prison.
A California prison expert, Dolovich paints a harrowing picture in which gangs rule their prison subcultures in this state. She says that to survive, prisoners must join with those of their skin color, and overcrowding can stretch resources so thin that guards can’t always protect everyone.
“In a lot of cases, the violence that is directed at other prisoners is directed by [gang] leadership,” she says. “The person who does the killing may have nothing against the person they’re killing but has been so ordered to act by their leadership. In many cases, individual prisoners have a hard time resisting what the leadership says because [if they refuse], they’ll be the next victim.”
As to why the scale tilts toward prison officials when a family member like Lola Krugel demands justice for a loved one murdered in prison, Dolovich offers multiple reasons. Among them is that the courts “may be worried about making it too easy for prisoners to recover [monetary awards],” which could lead “the federal courts to be flooded with prisoner suits.”
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