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Convict charged with plotting to kill judge • Friday February 28, 2003

El Paso Times, Feb. 27, 2003
Louie Gilot, El Paso Times

A man in prison for a 1994 El Paso murder is scheduled to stand trial Tuesday for allegedly plotting to kill the federal judge who presided over the Oklahoma City bombing trials.

Christopher Lee Bennett, 28, who is serving a 99-year sentence at a state prison in Amarillo for the murder of an El Paso pharmacist, pleaded not guilty last month in an Amarillo federal court to two counts of solicitation to commit a crime of violence.

Bennett, who sports a shaved head and large, racist prison tattoos across his throat and knuckles, is accused of soliciting two fellow inmates, Jimmy Dale Stamps and Ryan Gary Martin, to kill U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch in January 2001.

The crime carries a possible sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison and a $125,000 fine for each of the two counts.

In 2001, FBI officials said, Bennett allegedly sent handwritten letters to people inside and outside the prison, offering $6,000 to anyone “Aryan” who would kill Judge Matsch, preferably by shooting him. The letters are laced with anti-Semitic slurs directed at the 72-year-old judge.

Matsch, based in Denver, oversaw the trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who were convicted in the 1995 federal building bombing that killed 168 people in Oklahoma City. McVeigh was executed in 2001; Nichols was sentenced to life in prison. The judge also presided over the trial of several members of the Order, a neo-Nazi organization tied to the 1984 assassination of a Denver radio talk show host, Alan Berg. Matsch also presided over political corruption trials and Denver’s school desegregation case.

Bennett’s exact motive for wanting Matsch dead is not known, said federal prosecutor Vicki Lamberson in Amarillo.

“One of the elements we would have to prove is that he wanted to retaliate against the judge because of something he did as a judge,” she said.

Matsch declined to comment.

While awaiting trial at the El Paso County Jail for the 1994 murder that he was eventually convicted of, Bennett apparently joined a racist prison gang, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, and he was moved to an all-Anglo jail tank to avoid fights, said a detention officer who testified at his trial.

In Amarillo, authorities believe Bennett is a member of the prison Ku Klux Klan and of the Confederate Knights, another white supremacist gang.

When someone threatens the life of a federal judge, “the full might of the federal power is going to come down on them,” said FBI spokesman Art Werge of El Paso.

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