The informant who triggered the case, Michael Thompson, had been described by a prison warden as "an extreme liar, fabricator and controller of other people" who has "attempted to ingratiate himself to any law enforcement agency by testifying against other persons."
"All of the witnesses are receiving something," Crain said. "They are not here because overnight they became good citizens and they want to bring truth and light to this courtroom."
Back at the Terminal Island prison that night, Robert did his yoga exercises and meditation. He had taken to Buddhism in middle age, partly as a way to keep his sanity in near-constant isolation.
Before he came to Los Angeles for this trial, Robert had been held in the harshest confinement in the state, the Secured Housing Unit of Pelican Bay State Prison. For 12 years, he spent nearly 23 hours a day in his cell, with one hour outside alone, pacing in a bare concrete yard the size of a boxcar, madness stalking behind. If he dwelt too long on what his life had become, it would get him.
Buddhism pushed him to detach himself from desire and accept the present as the place where his actions, good and bad, naturally delivered him. Longing to have done things differently was pointless, the very basis of suffering.
He was tired after a long day. "I love you, Angel. We have to unwind and get ready for bed," he wrote Pam, using the royal "we" as he often did. "We got to tell you, Legs, Mike did good. You're always good."
Clifford "Smitty" Smith lumbered up onto the stand like a bellicose old walrus.
Wearing a green prison jumpsuit and chain restraints, he was built like an aging power lifter -- hefty paunch, massive chest and arms, stump of a head.
Pam had not seen him for more than 20 years, back when they were friends. On visiting days at the prison in Chino, he was a funny good ol' boy from Bakersfield. Pam had a quilt on her bed in Omaha that Smitty's grandma had sewn her for Christmas.
Now 53, Smitty was pallid and coughing like a consumptive.
"How many murders are you responsible for?" Assistant U.S. Atty. Mark Aveis asked him.
"I believe, but I'm not sure, from the time I got in the Aryan Brotherhood until the time I got out we killed 21 people," Smith said flatly.
His fixed glass eye spoke to his time in battle.
"Why were you interested in joining the Aryan Brotherhood?"
"Two kinds of people in prison," Smith shot back, "predator and prey." He glanced at Robert and Stinson with his one good eye. "I'm a predator and they're predators."
He had used the same line a few months before in Santa Ana. He described how the Aryan Brotherhood tried to reform itself from a ragtag prison gang into a moneymaking criminal organization in the summer of 1982, when most of the members were in Chino. He said they formed a three-man commission, which included Robert, at the top.
Smith said the commission had to approve any hit on a brother.