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Suspect could face the death penalty

Prosecutors claim that local white supremacist currently serving 45-year sentence helped execute man to gain respect of another gang. Defense attributes violence to gang culture.

October 08, 2009|By Brianna Bailey

Costa Mesa white supremacist Billy Joe Johnson lured fellow gang member Scott Miller into a dark alley in an Anaheim apartment complex, where two other men who were part of a “chosen death squad ” back in March 2002 lay in wait, an Orange County prosecutor told jurors Wednesday, the first day of Johnson’s murder trial. They ambushed Miller and shot him in the back of the head with a 9-millimeter handgun, he said.

“Mr. Johnson led Mr. Miller to his execution and loved every second of it, and loved every second since, because it made him a hero,” Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Ebrahim Baytieh told jurors.

Johnson, 46, could face the death penalty, if convicted in Miller’s slaying. Opening statements in the trial, which is expected to last about a week, took place Wednesday at Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana.

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Wearing a 3-inch tall Mohawk and a long-sleeved khaki shirt buttoned over a large “SS” tattoo on his neck, Johnson talked with his defense attorney, Michael Molfetta, while the jury viewed graphic photographs and video of Miller’s body lying face down in blood. At one point during a courtroom screening of a video of the crime scene, Johnson looked up at the screen and stroked his chin.

When his turn came to deliver the defense’s opening statements, Molfetta told the jury that Johnson’s actions were a product of the violent environment in which he grew up. Johnson has been in and out of jail and prison since his early 20s, Molfetta said.

Johnson had to resort to violence to survive in the violent gang subculture that thrives in California’s troubled prison system, Molfetta said.

“If you don’t obey the rules, you will get your head cut off,” Molfetta said.

Prosecutors described the crime as a calculated revenge plot. The attack had been a surprise, retaliation for an interview Miller gave a television news film crew some 13 months earlier about the white supremacist gang Public Enemy Number One, Baytieh said.

“The only thing his body could do was to fall — boom — right down on the ground,” Baytieh said.

Johnson took part in the killing to gain status within the Public Enemy Number One gang, Baytieh said. He described the gang underworld Johnson was exposed to as a violent and drug-ridden realm where human life means little.

“Evidence is going to show you a complete and utter disregard for the value of human life and a gang culture so foreign [that] ... you’re going to shake your head,” Baytieh told the jury.

Michael Allen Lamb, 35, and Jacob Anthony Rump, 33, the two other gang members who ambushed Miller, were convicted in 2007 for their roles in his murder. Rump was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. A judge sentenced Lamb to death.

Johnson is already serving 45 years to life in prison for another unrelated murder in which he bludgeoned the victim to death with a claw hammer.


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