Defendants All Acquitted In Sedition TrialBILL SIMMONS , Associated Press
Apr. 8, 1988 12:43 PM ET
FORT SMITH, ARK. FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) _ The acquittal of 13 white supremacists on sedition charges means that ''religious freedom is still alive in this country,'' says one of the defendants in the seven-week federal trial.
An all-white jury Thursday acquitted the men of charges including conspiring to kill a federal judge and FBI agent and plotting to overthrow the federal government and establish an all-white nation in the Pacific Northwest.
Afterward, one juror said jury members didn't believe the government's witnesses. Two spokesmen for national human rights organizations said the acquittals marked a setback for those fighting bigotry and racism.
Defendant Robert E. Miles, 63, a white supremacist leader from Cohoctah, Mich., praised the verdicts. But when asked how the trial had affected the supremacist movement, he said, ''Who knows? What movement? What's left of it after this?''
''This proves that the common law is still alive,'' said defendant Richard G. Butler of Hayden Lake, Idaho. ''This means we still enjoy the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of religion.''
The government presented 113 witnesses during the trial, which began Feb. 16. Prosecutors sought to prove that supremacists robbed banks and armored trucks of $4.1 million to finance their activities, including about $1 million still missing. The jury deliberated four days.
The defense, which called 79 witnesses, contended the conspiracy theory was made up by a key government witness, James Ellison, 47, who led a supremacist group in Arkansas and is serving 20 years for racketeering.
To discredit Ellison, the defense disclosed he had two wives, thought he received messages from God and had himself crowned King James of the Ozarks.
One juror, who asked not to be identified summed up the case by saying, ''We just didn't believe the government's witnesses.''
Asked if the jury put much stock in Ellison's testimony, the juror asked, ''Would you?'' The juror said Ellison and other witnesses who backed him ''stood to gain with reduced sentences by testifying for the government.''
Defendants said the government was trying to suppress their call for white separatism and other aspects of their political and religious views.
''Religious freedom is still alive in this country,'' said Miles.
But U.S. Attorney J. Michael Fitzhugh denied that the charges were politically motivated.
''We weren't after them because of what they believed or what they said,'' he said. ''We were after them because of what they did.''
Fitzhugh said today on CBS' ''This Morning'':''I don't think that there's anything that we would have done any differently, either with the charges that we did or the way that we presented the case. We thought we had a good, prosecutable, winnable case and it just didn't turn out that way.''
Defendant Louis Ray Beam Jr., 41, of Houston, celebrated his acquittal by standing in the shadow of a Confederate memorial opposite the court building and claiming victory against what he calls the Zionist Occupation Government.
''I think ZOG has suffered a terrible defeat here today,'' Beam said. ''I think everyone saw through the charade and saw that I was simply being punished for being a vociferous and outspoken opponent of ZOG.''
Burton Levinson, national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, called the verdicts ''a real setback in the war against organized hate.''
''Although many of the defendants are already serving prison terms growing out of their extremist activities, the others, including the most important leaders, will now be free to once again promote their anti-democratic and bigoted aims,'' Levinson said in a statement from New York. ''The outcome means that we must and will remain vigilant.''
The acquittal of the white supremacists was cited by Urban League National President John Jacobs as another example of the resurgence of racism in the United States.
''Every time something like this happens, it sets back the whole movement for fairness, equality and justice,'' Jacobs said Thursday night in Grand Rapids, Mich. ''You can be a racist and get away with it, and that is a very disturbing message.''
Besides Miles, Butler and Beam, the other defendants were:
-Richard Joseph Scutari, 40, of New York, already serving 60 years for racketeering.
-Bruce Carroll Pierce, 32, of Metalline Falls, Wash., serving 100 years for racketeering and 150 years for violating the civil rights of Denver radio personality Alan Berg by killing him.
-Andrew Virgil Barnhill, 31, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., serving 40 years for racketeering.
-Ardie McBrearty, 60, of Gentry, Ark., serving 40 years for racketeering.
-David Eden Lane, 48, of Denver, serving 40 years for racketeering and 150 years for Berg's death.
-Richard Wayne Snell, 57, of Muse, Okla., sentenced to die for the murder of a pawn shop operator in 1983 and life in prison without parole for the 1984 slaying of an Arkansas state trooper.
-Lambert Miller, 47, of Springfield, Mo.
-David Michael McGuire, 25, of Greenville, Ill.
-Ivan Ray Wade, 35, of Smithville, Ark.
-William Wade, 68, of Smithville, father of Ivan Ray Wade.
Miles, Butler, Beam, Scutari, Pierce, Barnhill, McBrearty, Lane and Snell were acquitted of charges of seditious conspiracy; Scutari and Barnhill were acquitted of transporting stolen money, and Snell, Miller, McGuire and the Wades were acquitted of conspiracy to commit murder.
A fourteenth defendant, Robert Neil Smalley, 32, of Fort Smith, was acquitted earlier in the trial.