Jury gets Aryan Brotherhood case

Times Staff Writers

The case against two alleged leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang in California went to a jury Tuesday after six weeks of gruesome and bizarre testimony that painted prison gang life as a predatory dystopia where one must kill or be killed.

Robert "Blinky" Griffin, 59, and John "Youngster" Stinson, 52, are accused of ordering a series of murders to maintain discipline within the gang and, in doing so, strengthen its power and expand its drug-trafficking and extortion rackets.

If convicted on the racketeering charges, they could receive life in prison without the possibility of parole. Stinson is already serving a sentence of life without parole for a Long Beach murder. Griffin, who has been in prison since 1970, could be paroled in several years.

In court, the two wore sweater vests and sports jackets and tapped at laptop computers while a circus of cursing, hulking, tattooed inmates testified against them. Griffin's attorney called those witnesses a "parade of liars" in his closing statement.

He hammered at payments and favors the government gave to witnesses in exchange for their testimony and pointed out their past acts of perjury.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Mark Aveis conceded that many of the former Aryan brothers testifying against the defendants had credibility problems. One witness, Clifford Smith, who admitted killing 20 people in prison, was caught in a significant lie during a recent death penalty case. But Aveis said the totality of the testimony and physical evidence, including numerous letters and written messages, collected in the course of an eight-year investigation, prove the two were leaders of "an Aryan Brotherhood conspiracy."

He called Griffin "the emeritus figure in the A.B." -- who got the nickname Blinky because he could order a hit simply by blinking.

This is the second major trial resulting from a 2002 indictment meant to break the gang that started in California and spread throughout the U.S.

The current case, being heard in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, has focused solely on the California faction. Prosecutors alleged that while Griffin, Stinson and other Aryan Brotherhood members were housed at the California Institution for Men at Chino in 1982, they hatched a plan to become more disciplined and more organized.

Two murders that year were seminal, prosecutors said.

When the gang could not get to a former member named Steven Barnes, who had testified against Griffin and was in protective custody, prosecutors said, member Curtis Price went to Barnes' family's home in Temple City and shot his father to death. The message was that if the gang couldn't get a snitch, it would go after his family.

That second was the killing of brotherhood member Steven "Loser" Clark, who was too high on heroin to trust anymore, according to testimony.

Four other murders in the 1980s and 1990s were key to the case. The defense argued that the murders had nothing to do with a conspiracy and that the men convicted of those crimes were now depicting the killings as a conspiracy only to get favors from the government.

"The government is presenting you a fraud," Stinson lawyer Terrence Bennett told jurors.




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