SANTA ANA, Calif. – The largest capital murder case in U.S. history began Tuesday as federal prosecutors aim to dismantle the Aryan Brotherhood, a prison gang of white supremacists that has been linked to dozens of killings across the country.
Prosecutors have charged 40 people affiliated with the Aryan Brotherhood with crimes that include conspiracy to commit murder, fomenting a race war with black inmates, smuggling heroin into prisons, and murders inside of prison and out. Eight gang members now face the death penalty, and prosecutors may seek death for eight more. Nineteen others have already pleaded guilty.
“This case is fundamentally about power and control of the nation’s prison population,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Emmick told the jury in his opening statement in the first of a series of trials that use racketeering statutes to target the gang’s top leadership. Although there are only about 100 members of the gang, he said, “what distinguishes the Aryan Brotherhood is that its members are particularly violent, disciplined, fearless, and committed to controlling and dominating the prison population through murder, threats and intimidation.”
Prosecutors paint the Aryan Brotherhood as a cunning and well-organized network of convicts more concerned with earning hundreds of thousands of dollars from gambling, drug sales and prostitution than with racial superiority. The gang sought unsuccessfully to carry out a hit for Mafia don John Gotti and once executed the father of a man who testified against them, according to the indictment and declassified FBI documents.
Gang members communicated between maximum-security prisons by using elaborately coded messages and notes written in invisible ink made from lemon juice or urine, prosecutors said. “They’re very, very crafty,” said Gregory Jessner, a former prosecutor who brought the indictment but is no longer on the case. “They have on the whole tended to outwit the prison authorities.”
Tyler “The Hulk” Bingham and Barry “The Baron” Mills, previously convicted of stabbing a fellow inmate to death in 1979, are among four gang members on trial this week. Bingham and Mills are accused of setting up and running a three-member “commission” to oversee the workings of the gang inside the federal penal system.
The trial is expected to take nine months, and prosecutors plan to call dozens of witnesses, including at least 12 former gang members. Eleven more Aryan Brotherhood members will go on trial in October.