George Christie Jr., the Hells Angels leader who gained national attention when he carried the Olympic torch along the California coast, was acquitted by a federal court jury Tuesday of soliciting the murder of a government informant.
In a verdict his lawyer and some jurors said was a "message to Washington" about the prosecution's tactics against the outlaw motorcycle gang, jurors found Christie not guilty of conspiracy and solicitation in an alleged plot to kill a one-time Hells Angels associate who had become an informant.
Also acquitted was Daniel Fabricant, accused of acting as Christie's go-between in what federal prosecutors said was a plan to murder Arizona prison inmate Thomas Chaney for providing information to the government about the gang's drug-dealing activities.
Murder Was Faked
Chaney's murder was faked by federal authorities in late September, 1986, a month after Christie allegedly approached Michael Mulhern, a former prison gang leader who had become an informer for the government, about "whacking" Chaney.
Although federal prosecutors produced two taped conversations in which Mulhern and Christie purportedly settled on the murder plan, Christie claimed that he was being framed.
The 40-year-old leader of the Ventura chapter of the Hells Angels, a candidate for statewide leadership of the motorcycle gang, claimed that federal authorities had launched a campaign against him because of the favorable publicity he got during his Olympic torch run.
His lawyer, Barry Tarlow, was highly critical of the government's use of Mulhern, a man he described as a "one-man crime wave" who had a stake in making it appear as though Christie were soliciting the murder because of the thousands of dollars he was receiving in government witness protection payments.
"The jury wanted a message sent to Washington, that this type of framing tactics ought not to go on in a free society," Tarlow said outside the courtroom as juror Frances Jones nodded in agreement.
"You said it right there. I couldn't have said it better. . . . Michael Mulhern was orchestrating those tapes," the Riverside woman said.
'Just Liked' Defendant
Jones said she was one of a number of jurors who "just liked" Christie, a father of two who had never been arrested before but who appeared in court each day with a bevy of bearded bikers in the audience and the winged-skull insignia of the Hells Angels emblazoned on his vest.
"He just looked like an upstanding character," she said. "I kept asking myself, 'What's this man doing in the Hells Angels?' "
Jury foreman Dorothea Long said jurors concluded that Mulhern persuaded Christie to go along with the murder plan.
"We couldn't get beyond entrapment," she said. "There was no prior intent to commit this crime. . . . We listened to those tapes, we hunted for it, but it just wasn't there."
Assistant U.S. Atty. J. Stephen Czuleger, who prosecuted the case, said he was disappointed with the verdict, but added:
"It's a little difficult to be too disappointed, keeping in mind that we did, in our estimation, save a human life, in that we believed that there was a murder plot to kill an inmate, and we prevented it."
During the seven-week trial before U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian, federal prosecutors presented evidence that Christie gave Mulhern $500 and the pink slip to a 1973 Pontiac when he learned of Chaney's supposed death.
During a taped conversation before the staged murder, Mulhern appears to ask Christie if he is sure he wants to go through with the plan. "In this case, the people that are gonna get him, they're gonna leave him dead, dude," Mulhern says.
"Yeah," Christie replies. "I'd do it myself if he was here. . . . That guy is a (expletive deleted) troublemaker."
"It was George Christie who by his own admission chose to meet with Michael Mulhern on eight to 10 occasions," Czuleger said. And while he conceded many of the defense's assertions about Mulhern's character, Czuleger added: "If you want to commit a prison murder, who do you ask but someone like Michael Mulhern?"
After the verdict, Christie embraced his lawyer and obtained permission from the judge to kiss his wife.
"I'm elated," Christie said when reached after the verdict. "I feel that it was a just verdict. I wasn't guilty . . .
"I think they were completely out of line with their tactics. Their motives for the alleged killing seemed to change day to day as their case fell apart.
"If I wasn't a Hell's Angel, they wouldn't have bothered. I don't think it was necessarily George Christie they were after. It could have been any Hell's Angel. I just had the opportunity because of the torch relay."