California Trial Aims to Dismantle Prison Gang
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
A witness in a California courtroom testified yesterday that he was in on several murders involving prison inmates. He's a former member of the Aryan Brotherhood, now a government informant. Four leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood are on trial in southern California in the first of several proceedings, aimed at dismantling the gang and its leadership. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.
CARRIE KAHN reporting:
Federal marshals led the government's key witness into the Santa Ana courthouse yesterday, under tight security. Dressed in gray prison garb and shackled at the waist, Kevin Roach took his seat in the witness stand. His chains were immediately secured to the floor. Roach told jurors that he had murdered two men, attempted to murder another man, and had beaten up several inmates on the orders of the Aryan Brotherhood members.
Prosecutors say Roach will testify that he witnessed several of the 32 murders and attempted murders outlined in a sweeping indictment against the four Aryan Brotherhood leaders currently on trial. Two of the men, Barry, The Baron, Mills and T.D., The Hulk, Bingham, are facing the death penalty.
Yesterday, Roach easily recalled the date 15 years ago, when he pledged allegiance to the prison gang. Integrity, loyalty, and silence--Roach matter-of-factly recited the oath for jurors. My tongue eternally silent, he continued, I give my life to the Aryan Brotherhood.
He broke that silence in 1998 when he left the gang and entered a witness protection program. On the stand, yesterday, Roach testified about several conversations he had with Mills, where Mills talked of killing an inmate and ordering a hit on another, who had helped rival gang members make weapons.
Roach detailed how Aryan Brotherhood members were able to communicate with each other while housed in the nation's maximum security prisons. Tightly wadded notes were buried in a common exercise yard and later dug up by Aryan members who used the yard on different days.
Roach said he was able to move up in the gang when the Brotherhood was re-organizing in the mid-1990s. The gang was attempting to expand its criminal gambling and drug-running operations outside the prison system.
For their part, defense lawyers have not denied that their clients are members of the Aryan Brotherhood. They, however, adamantly dispute the conspiracy charges and deny that the gang ran a widespread criminal enterprise. Defense attorneys, instead, have focused jurors' attention on the credibility of former members testifying at the trial. They point to prison perks, lighter sentences, and money witnesses have received.
Law professor and former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson says the defense's strategy may work, but prosecutors aren't trying to hide anything.
Ms. LAURIE LEVENSON (Professor of Law, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles; Former Federal Prosecutor): It would be silly of the prosecutors, or the witnesses, to try to pretend that these witnesses are anything other than they are, because they're going to be torn apart on cross-examination. It's far better for the jurors to see them with their warts and all.
KAHN: Informant Kevin Roach is expected to continue testifying through the day. Jurors have been told that the trial will last through the summer. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Los Angeles.