A jury of eight men and four women found three members of a white-supremacist group guilty Friday night on charges related to the 2002 beating of a bar manager, because he was of Hispanic descent, and for the beating of a Native American outside another bar three months later.
Family members of Shaun Walker, 39; Travis D. Massey, 30; and Eric G. Egbert, 22, cried as U.S. marshals placed each of the men in handcuffs to be held in custody pending sentencing in July. All face up to 20 years in federal prison. All were members of a group called the National Alliance, of which Walker was the national chairman. Massey was the local leader for Utah.
After spending five hours in deliberation, the jury was unanimous in its decision. "It was not an easy decision," said one female juror who appeared to have been crying as she was being escorted by an officer to her car. A male juror with her also said the decision was very emotional, but right. "I mean it wasn't easy, but it was the right thing to do." Both jurors said they believed the three men were intent on striking fear among Salt Lake City's minorities.
Outside the federal courthouse Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlos Esqueda said these types of crimes are designed to spread hate and fear among members of the community. "This is the type of crime that affects the community," Esqueda told reporters. "I hope this sends the message to the community of Salt Lake that these are our streets, not their streets."
Walker, Massey and Egbert were charged with hate crimes and civil rights violations stemming from the beating of two men. During a four-day trial, which culminated Friday afternoon, federal prosecutors claimed the trio beat the men as part of an overall campaign to start a "race war," intimidate "non-whites" in the Salt Lake City area, and use the news of the violence to recruit others who shared their views.
Patrons and employees of the O'Shucks bar took the stand to recall a racist confrontation with members of the National Alliance group on New Year's Eve, 2002. The testimony recounted how white supremacists handed out stickers calling for a stop to all immigration by "non-whites," saying they "are turning America into a third world slum ... they come for welfare or to take our jobs."
They also referred to "non-whites" as "messy," "disruptive," "noisy" and said they "multiply rapidly."
The prosecution's key witness, Keith Cotter, was a former National Alliance member who testified that he took part in both assaults along with the other three defendants.
Cotter's account of the events at O'Shucks were similar to the accounts of bar employees and patrons, who said bar manager James Ballesteros was dragged out of the bar in a headlock. While one of the men held the door shut to keep patrons and employees from rushing to his aid, the others beat and kicked Ballesteros black and blue.
Cotter also testified to taking part in the beating of a Native American man outside the Port O' Call bar in March 2003 with Massey. He testified that Massey told him he had a particular hatred for Native Americans and the two plotted to lure the man and his friends outside the bar. Cotter then testified he and Massey assaulted three men, leaving the Native American bleeding and unconscious in the middle of the intersection.
Prosecutors say Cotter is also a suspect in the brutal beating of a black man in March 2005, which left the man hospitalized after being punched, kicked and struck with a beer bottle by three men. Cotter had plead guilty to that assault but struck a deal with prosecutors, agreeing to testify in the other two assaults in exchange for not being charged in them.
Defense attorneys for Walker, Massey and Egbert stressed to the jury that Cotter had every reason to implicate their clients as a way to get himself out being charged in the first two assaults, and a lighter sentence for the third.
The defense also characterized the assaults as drunken bar brawls that had nothing to do with race.
A second former National Alliance member also placed the trio at the scene of the O'Shucks assault. Brad Callahan testified to meeting Walker, Massey and Egbert just after the New Year's incident. They met at Walker's Salt Lake City home and Callahan said the three talked about beating a bartender that night.
Defense attorney Fred Metos said his clients were obviously disappointed in the verdict and were convinced the evidence against them was weak at best. Metos said defense attorneys will now concentrate on dealing with sentencing on July 31, to appeal to the court for the lightest sentence possible.Family members of the trio dodged reporters and did not comment.