DENVER (Oct. 28)
Intermountain Jewish News
Security was unusually tight at the U.S. District Courthouse here this week as jury selection began in the civil rights trial of four avowed white supremacists accused of murdering Denver radio talk show host Alan Berg, a Jew, in 1984.
At least a dozen federal marshals guarded the defendants as the lengthy jury selection process began Monday. It was expected to last through the week, and the trial itself several weeks.
The defendants, accused of planning and carrying out the murder of the outspoken and popular radio personality, are members of the white supremacist gang known variously as the Silent Brotherhood or The Order.
David Lane, 48, a former Ku Klux Klan member in Colorado, is accused of driving the getaway car after the June 18, 1984 machine-gun slaying at Berg’s apartment here. Lane had argued with Berg on his radio program several weeks before the murder.
Bruce Pierce, 33, is accused of being the triggerman. Richard Scutari, 40, allegedly acted as lookout during the crime, and Jean Craig, 54, is accused of shadowing Berg in the weeks before his killing. A suspected fifth member of the alleged hit squad, Robert Mathews, was killed in a shootout with police in Washington in December 1984.
The defendants already are serving prison terms from convictions on racketeering charges stemming from the Brotherhood’s earlier activities, mostly in the Pacific Northwest. Under the federal charges they are now facing, all could draw maximum life terms in prison.
PLOT TO OVERTHROW GOVERNMENT
U.S. attorneys charge that Berg’s murder was part of a radical rightwing plot to overthrow the U.S. government, often called by Brotherhood members the “Zionist Occupational Government,” or ZOG. The defendants are charged with violating Berg’s civil rights by murdering him because of his Jewish religion.
To prove its case under the 1968 federal civil rights law, the prosecution must convince the jury that the defendants acted with force, injured Berg, acted because of Berg’s religion, acted wilfully and took action resulting in Berg’s death.
Violation of Berg’s civil rights apparently is easier to prove than homicide, according to Saul Rosenthal, regional director here of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. He explained that unlike under the latter charge, circumstantial evidence is permissible in a civil rights case and evidence can be “lumped together to paint a picture” to convict the four as a group.
Prosecutors plan to introduce evidence indicating that The Order had also discussed murdering such well-known Jewish figures as Baron Elie de Rothschild and television producer Norman Lear.
The prosecution is expected to call more than 100 witnesses including a man involved in the group’s counterfeiting operations, another who already has testified that Brotherhood members told him of their role in Berg’s killing and a rabbi to define what is a Jew.
Attorneys for the defense quizzed jury candidates as to whether they believed someone could be highly anti-Semitic, yet be unwilling to advocate the murder of a Jew, offering a possible hint as to their trial strategy. All those questioned Monday acknowledged such a possibility. Most potential jurors indicated they were offended by anti-Semitic remarks.
Berg often used his radio shows to lambaste white supremacists and other racists, frequently arguing with them on the air over the telephone. After such a discussion with former Colorado Ku Klux Klan leader Fred Wilkins in 1979, Wilkins came to Berg’s studio and confronted him. Berg said at the time that Wilkins was armed during the incident, but later declined to press charges.
The federal action on the case follows a decision last year by Denver District Attorney Norm Early not to file homicide charges against the four, based on his feeling that there was insufficient evidence to convict them.
Rosenthal, who protested the district attorney’s decision not to file charges, tied the trial to a number of cross-burning incidents in the Denver area in recent days.
“The next step in this process would be the adoption of an ethnic harassment and intimidation statute in Colorado to punish cross-burners, swastika-sprayers and other intimidators of minorities,” he said. “Alan’s death deserves no less that this.”