SANTA ANA, Calif. — The government’s star witness in the trial of four leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang testified that disenchantment with its murderous ways led him to turn against the group, at the risk of being marked for death.
Chained to the floor behind the witness stand in U.S. District Court, twice-convicted killer Kevin Roach spent a second day Friday presenting jurors an insider’s glimpse into what prosecutors describe as the nation’s most vicious prison gang.
He is the highest-ranking of several gang defectors to testify in the racketeering and conspiracy trial of Aryan Brotherhood chief Barry “The Baron” Mills and three lieutenants, Tyler “The Hulk” Bingham, Edgar “Snail” Hevle and Christopher Gibson.
The four, collectively accused of 32 murders and attempted murder, are the first to stand trial out of 40 reputed gang members and associates indicted in one of the largest death penalty prosecutions in U.S. history.
Defense lawyers have countered that their clients merely banded together to survive amid violent racial warfare in maximum-security U.S. prisons.
Roach said he joined the Aryan Brotherhood, also known as the Brand, in 1990 for protection and a sense of “family,” believing it to be “the best thing that ever happened to me.” But by 1998, after rising through the ranks to become part of the group’s inner circle, or “council,” he had had enough.
“I reached that stage in my life when I could see it as murder, mayhem and robbery,” Roach said. “It was the same as any other criminal organization. It didn’t end up being what I thought it would be.”
According to Roach, gang members rule the federal prison system through intimidation and violence, imposing their will on weaker inmates and perceived enemies. He said gang members must be prepared to kill without hesitation on orders from the group’s leaders, or face death themselves.
Prosecutors have said gang leaders ordered murders and assaults throughout the prison system, communicating by notes — sometimes written in secret code or with invisible ink made with fruit juice or urine.
Roach was incarcerated at a federal “supermax” prison in Colorado, nicknamed “Alcatraz of the Rockies,” when he decided to defect in May 1998, notifying prison authorities in a letter that he wanted to be taken into protective custody.
Moved to an isolated cell block, he told authorities how gang members made and used weapons and communicated in code. He said he also informed on corrupt prison officials.
Roach said he was motivated by a desire to seek redemption but felt conflicted about informing on his former peers.
“Barry Mills was never anything but good to me in the life we lived,” he said.