- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2006

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A former prison gang member told jurors he read Niccolo Machiavelli and killed enemies behind bars to impress gang leaders as testimony began yesterday in the federal government’s racketeering case against four reputed leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood.

Clifford Smith, a convicted murderer and Aryan Brotherhood member from 1978 to 1984, was the first witness in the case, which charges there was a gang conspiracy to kill inmates who cheated on drug deals or snitched to prison authorities.

Wearing an eye patch and prison jumpsuit, Smith told the jury how his initiation included helping kill one gang enemy and stabbing another. The gang killed as a way to keep the power needed to conduct criminal activities involving drugs, extortion, fraud and identity theft, he said.

“Not everybody is willing to kill somebody,” Smith said. “Some people are kind of squeamish about that stuff. I wanted to let them know I wasn’t.”

Authorities arrested 40 suspected Aryan Brotherhood members in 2002 after a six-year investigation. Nineteen struck plea bargains, one died and 16 others could face the death penalty in one of the largest capital-punishment cases in U.S. history.

The four now on trial have been described as gang leaders: Barry “the Baron” Mills, 57; Tyler Davis “the Hulk” Bingham, 58; Edgar “the Snail” Hevle, 54, and Christopher Overton Gibson, 46. Mills and Bingham could face the death penalty; Hevle and Gibson could get life in prison.

The indictment says members of the white-supremacist gang orchestrated a web of conspiracies, including starting a prison war against a black gang that resulted in at least two killings.

Prosecutors opened their case with a simple slide: “The Aryan Brotherhood: Blood in, Blood out.”

The phrase — borrowed from the gang itself — means that inmates must kill to join the gang and can only leave when they die, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Emmick said in his opening statement.

Mr. Emmick said the gang even went after its own members to maintain discipline and inspire fear.

Defense lawyer H. Dean Steward rejected Mr. Emmick’s claims that the crimes were ordered by the gang’s leadership. He said most crimes were committed by people who had personal conflicts.

“The murders and assaults happened,” Mr. Steward told jurors. “There’s no dispute. The question is ‘Why?’”

Mr. Steward, who represents Mills, said nearly all of the government’s case was based on 42 prison informants who had been coached and offered incentives including immunity, reduced sentences and cash payments.

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