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Supremacists Charged With Racial Murder

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two self-proclaimed white supremacists were charged Tuesday with racially motivated murder for allegedly beating a homeless African American man to death behind a Lancaster fast-food restaurant two years ago.

It was only the second hate-crime homicide case prosecuted in Los Angeles County history.

Two defendants, Randall Lee “Randy” Rojas, 21, and Ritch Bryant, 18, had been convicted of previous hate crimes of assault and attempted murder. A third defendant, a teenage girl whom prosecutors declined to identify, was also charged in the case.

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The charges were announced by Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti at a noon news conference. He added that the case should send the message to “young people especially” that hate crimes will be aggressively prosecuted.

“We will not tolerate hate crimes,” said Garcetti, who was joined by about a dozen federal and local law enforcement officials. “Whoever’s thinking about getting involved in any skinhead type of crime, understand that the people around me are going to find you.”

Authorities say the Antelope Valley is one of the county’s four “hate-crime clusters” where such attacks have increased markedly, rising from 18 in 1995 to 40 in 1996.

The announcement Tuesday marked the eighth hate crime prosecuted in the county since January. So far, 11 defendants have been convicted--nine of them sentenced to prison and two to County Jail. One case is still pending.

All of the investigations were completed by the Antelope Valley Hate Crimes Task Force, a group of federal and local law enforcement agents and prosecutors.

“Because of the collaborative effort, I think we’ve turned the corner in hate-crime prosecution,” said Mike Gennaco, the chief civil rights prosecutor in the Los Angeles U.S. attorney’s office.

When Milton Walker Jr. was found dead Nov. 25, 1995, the case was considered a simple homicide. The motive of racial hatred was discovered later, prosecutors said.

Garcetti said Walker was slain “simply because of the color of his skin.”

But the district attorney refused to say what made the case a hate crime or why it took two years to solve, and he declined to provide details about the killing or describe how the three defendants knew each other, saying that such disclosure would harm the investigation.

“You’ll have to take our word for it,” Garcetti said.

The charges come a day after another Lancaster man pleaded guilty to federal hate-crime charges stemming from two 1996 assaults on African American men that were meant to “rid the streets of Lancaster of African Americans,” according to court documents.

Danny Edward Williams, a 24-year-old member of the Nazi Low Riders gang, faces up to 20 years in federal prison for violating the men’s civil rights.

Bryant, who bears a swastika tattoo, is serving an eight-year prison sentence for the September 1995 beating and stabbing of an African American at Antelope Valley High School. Rojas was in a halfway house as a condition of his probation after serving two years for the December 1995 beating of a Latino man outside a 7-Eleven store in Lancaster.

Although Rojas’ father is Latino, he told authorities that he considers himself white. Prosecutors say he is covered in skinhead-style tattoos. “White” is tattooed across his ankles, “White Power” across both his arms. He also bears thunderbolts above his kneecaps, which “are indicative of one who has killed an individual,” according to court files.

The teenage girl is being held at a Sylmar detention hall, but prosecutors say they will seek to try her as an adult.

Normally, defendants charged with first-degree murder face 25 years to life, with the possibility of parole.

Adding the special condition of a hate crime makes it a capital offense. But because of the defendants’ age at the time of the slaying, prosecutors say they are not eligible for the death penalty, only life in prison without parole.

The only other hate-crime slaying prosecuted in Los Angeles occurred in 1990, the district attorney’s office said. Gregory Hamilton, an African American gang member, was arrested after allegedly beating a Central American man to death with a cinder block, shouting: “I hate Mexicans!”

Antelope Valley officials are taking a “zero-tolerance approach” to hate crimes, said Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford.

He also expressed regret that the Antelope Valley’s recent upswing in hate-crime cases might have given it a negative image.

“Our area has grown so fast and we’ve become really diverse,” Ledford said. “But compare us with, say, Los Angeles. People look at the L.A. Basin as the melting pot of the world and there is a lot of diversity. But there also are segregated communities there. We don’t have that here. Our neighborhoods are fully integrated.

“People who aren’t from here can say, ‘Hate crime runs rampant in the Antelope Valley.’ But L.A. deals with these cases by the hundreds. And we’ve had a modest increase.”

Antelope Valley officials urged federal authorities to form the task force to appease residents who feared that hate crimes would not be thoroughly prosecuted, Ledford said.

Times correspondent Dade Hayes contributed to this story.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

A History of Hate Crimes

Efforts of the Antelope Valley Hate Crimes Task Force, comprising federal and local law enforcement officials, have led to the convictions of 11 defendants in the past two years, including Randy Rojas and Ritch Bryant, both of whom have been charged with murder in another alleged hate crime assault.

* Feb. 21, 1995: Six shots were fired into a car carrying three black adults and a baby near Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster. One adult was struck in the neck by a bullet and the baby was hurt by broken glass, but both recovered. Three alleged white supremacists pleaded guilty in March 1996 to attempted murder. Convicted were Chris Parker of Lancaster, who fired the shots and was sentenced to 20 years in prison; Robert Garland Jr. of Lancaster, 18 years; and Robert Jones of Gardena, nearly 13 years.

* Sept. 20, 1995: A 19-year-old Latino was beaten by a group of skinheads outside a 7-Eleven store in Lancaster. In February, two reputed skinheads, Rojas and Brent Toner, pleaded guilty to assault and hate-crime charges related to the attack. Each was sentenced to two years in prison.

* December 1995: A black student at Antelope Valley High School was punched, kicked and repeatedly stabbed with a screwdriver by attackers shouting, “White power!” Bryant, Tim Williams and Joseph Langford were convicted in the case and each was sentenced to eight years in prison.

* Oct. 3, 1996: A gay pub in Lancaster, the Back Door Bar, was bombed, and one man suffered minor injuries. In June, Geoffrey Barr of Lancaster was sentenced to more than eight years in state prison after pleading guilty to a hate crime that involved exploding a destructive device to cause bodily injury.

* Tuesday, prosecutors named two others--John Berg and Alfred Hernandez--who had been convicted of hate crimes. Hernandez, 19, was sentenced to one year in jail for vandalism, and Berg, 56, received a one-year term for assault and other charges.

Source: Los Angeles County district attorney’s office


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