Monday, March 20, 2006

Former Aryan Brotherhood Member Says Gotti Sought Hit

Friends of ours: John Gotti

A former member of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang testified Thursday that alleged gang kingpin Barry "The Baron" Mills once ordered a killing at the request of John Gotti after another inmate jumped the mob boss in a prison yard.

Glen West, a member of the white supremacist gang from 1981 to 2003, said Gotti later told him he had offered $100,000 to the group if they would kill the man named Walter Johnson.

Another gang member sent a message to Mills, who was in a different prison, requesting permission to carry out the hit, West said. "He'd sent it to Barry, and Barry sent word back that we were to get Johnson killed at all costs," West said. Prosecutors have said the killing was never carried out.

Mills is among four members of the Aryan Brotherhood on trial on federal racketeering charges in the case alleging a web of conspiracies and killings in the gang's efforts to sell drugs and conduct other criminal activities in prisons across the nation.

It's the first of several trials comprising one of the largest death penalty cases in U.S. history. Prosecutors said Mills had a hand in all but one of the crimes in the indictment that includes 32 murders and attempted murders.

Two of the men currently on trial -- Mills and T.D. "The Hulk" Bingham -- could face the death penalty. All have pleaded not guilty.

During cross-examination, attorney H. Dean Steward, who represents Mills, asked if West was testifying to avoid a life sentence and pointed out that he didn't come forward with his information until 2003, when he was trying to strike a deal with prosecutors. "You were arrested at the same time everyone else was in this," Steward said. "You know count nine (of the indictment) carries a potential sentence of life in prison, is that right?"

West answered "yes" but did not elaborate.

West, 52, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit murder in the current case, but he said that count will be dismissed in exchange for his testimony and a guilty plea in a separate attempted murder case from 1980.

Under earlier questioning, West said he had lied at another trial in the early 1990s to support an Aryan Brotherhood member. Later, he said he didn't testify at all in the case.

West also testified that he and Mills had been housed in the same prison block in Marion, Ill. During that time, Mills talked about at least five other murders that he said he ordered, according to West.

In one case, West said, Mills told him he was upset about a killing that got messy when the first strategy -- using a drug overdose -- didn't work.

Gang member Arva Lee "Baby" Ray was killed on July 9, 1989 because he threw a sugar packet and spit at another defendant, Edgar "The Snail" Hevle, and because he was abusing drugs and having a homosexual relationship, West said.

Mills "said they first tried to give him a hot shot, but that didn't work, so they had to strangle him and what they were using to strangle him with broke," West testified. "He said he was surprised at how hard Baby Ray fought it."

West, who was charged with one count of conspiracy to kill Ray, is now in the witness protection program.

Mills, 57, is already serving two life terms for a 1979 murder. In the current trial, he faces a possible death sentence for allegedly orchestrating the 1997 killings of two black inmates in Pennsylvania.

Rae Jones, 58, his stepsister, attended court proceedings. She said outside the courtroom that her parents had taken him in for a number of years when he was a teen and dating her older sister.

Mills worked at the family restaurant and later helped Jones raise her own sons. "He's a good man and has a loving heart," she said. "Barry was just one of the guys."

Bingham, 58, is currently serving time on robbery and drug charges. Also on trial are Hevle, 54, and Christopher Overton Gibson, 46. If convicted, both could face life in prison.

Authorities arrested 40 alleged Aryan Brotherhood members in 2002 after a six-year investigation that aimed to dismantle the gang's leadership under a federal racketeering law originally aimed at organized crime. Nineteen defendants struck plea bargains and one has died.

If convicted, 16 of the remaining defendants could face the death penalty.

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