July 12, 2006

US prison gang case based on lies: defense

By Tori Richards

SANTA ANA, California (Reuters) - Defense lawyers winding
up a landmark conspiracy and racketeering case against the
notorious Aryan Brotherhood prison gang accused the U.S.
government on Wednesday of basing its case on "a parade of

They portrayed the gang -- which prosecutors say
orchestrated 32 murders over a 30-year period from inside some
of America's toughest prisons -- as a group of middle-aged men
who played cards together.

Making closing arguments, defense lawyer Mark Fleming said
the case against the Brotherhood was built on perjury from
informants in exchange for cash and the promise of parole.

"This case is informant driven from start to finish. There
is nothing left," Fleming said. He said the government's case
was based on "a parade of perjurers who are bought and paid for
by the government."

Convicted killer and suspected Aryan Brotherhood chief
Barry "The Baron" Mills, his alleged top lieutenant Tyler "the
Hulk" Bingham, Christopher Gibson and Edgar "Snail" Hevle have
been on trial in California since March.

Bingham and Mills, already serving long prison terms, have
been chained to the floor throughout the trial and could face
the death penalty if convicted.

It is the government's first salvo in a legal war that
prosecutors, taking laws previously used against the U.S.
mafia, hope will destroy the 40 year-old gang with a reputation
for ruthlessness.

The Aryan Brotherhood began as a mostly white group of
inmates who banded together at California's San Quentin state
prison in the 1960s to protect themselves against black and
Hispanic prisoners.

But Fleming said it was not a racist organization.

"They don't have family on the outside. When you spend 30
years in prison this is your family. They hang out together,
play cards together, they are real true friends," he said.

Chilling prison video of attempted murders and an account
of an inmate licking blood off his hands took center stage as
prosecutors wrapped up their case on Tuesday.

The trial has heard testimony from former gang members and
convicts who described orders written in urine and weapons
hidden in the genitals of prison visitors.

Fleming said their testimony was "tainted and manipulated"
because the informants had been housed together in a special
prison unit after agreeing to co-operate with the government.

Fleming called one of the prosecution's star witnesses --
former Brotherhood member Clifford Smith -- the "professor of
perjury." Smith turned informant after admitting to 21 murders.

Another former Aryan Brotherhood witness, who was serving
time for murder, received $153,000 from the government and won
parole, the defense said.

"Most people who get out of prison get a bus pass and $200
dollars," Fleming said.

The defense is expected to wrap its arguments on Thursday
and the case will go to the jury on Friday or Monday.

Forty people were charged in the case in 2002. Nineteen
have struck plea bargains, one defendant has died and trials
are pending for the rest.