Prison gang lords avoid execution

September 16, 2006|By Christopher Goffard | Christopher Goffard,Los Angeles Times

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- Jurors deadlocked yesterday on whether to execute two kingpins of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang who orchestrated a decades-long reign of murder from their cells.

As a result, Barry "The Baron" Mills, 58, and Tyler "The Hulk" Bingham, 59, will live out their years where they have spent most of their adult lives - and where their names carry near-mythic weight: behind bars.

The jury had been deliberating on the death penalty for a week when it announced the deadlock Thursday to U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who told the panel to deliberate further. Yesterday afternoon, jurors sent word they still could not make up their minds. In federal death-penalty cases, if jurors cannot reach a unanimous verdict, defendants receive a default penalty of life in prison.

The same jury convicted the walrus-mustached pair of racketeering and murder in July after a five-month trial in U.S. District Court. The case involved 17 murders or attempted murders dating to 1979, when Mills stabbed another inmate to death in an Atlanta prison for cheating the gang in a drug deal.

Under Mills' and Bingham's leadership, prosecutors said, the Brotherhood killed to enforce obedience among vast prison populations, run the drug trade, eliminate government informants and keep its members loyal to the gang's strict code.

The gang's violence culminated in 1997, when Mills and Bingham, incarcerated at the Supermax federal prison in Florence, Colo., smuggled a message written in invisible ink to another Brotherhood leader, Al Benton, at the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa. The message urged Benton to wage war on black inmates, prompting him and his soldiers to launch a blitz attack that left two black inmates dead.

"They thought about it, they plotted, and they sent a message," prosecutor Terri Flynn told jurors, contending that the premeditation involved in the Lewisburg murders argued for the death penalty for Mills and Bingham. They remained a threat to guards and other inmates, the prosecutor said.

Mills oversaw the Brotherhood's reign of violence even as he was serving a life sentence for the 1979 murder, the prosecutor said, asking jurors to consider what besides death might deter him from further crime. Like Bingham, Mills has two prior convictions for robbery with a firearm and has been incarcerated most of his adult life.

Christopher Goffard writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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