Santa Ana, Calif. -- A federal prosecutor told jurors Tuesday that a leader of a violent and highly organized white supremacist prison gang ordered members to start a war against a black gang that left two rivals dead within 12 hours.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Emmick detailed the plot during his opening statement in one of the largest capital punishment cases in U.S. history.
The trial, which could last nine months, involves four alleged leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood. A sweeping racketeering indictment alleges members of the gang were involved in 32 murders and attempted murders over 30 years, most of them orchestrated by the men on trial.
As many as 16 other defendants could face the death penalty at trials over the coming months. Nineteen others reached plea deals, and one has died.
All four alleged gang leaders are still serving time for other crimes, and all have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Alleged ringleader Barry "The Baron" Mills is serving two life terms for murdering an inmate in 1979. He and Tyler Davis "The Hulk" Bingham, 58, could face death if convicted now of orchestrating the 1997 killings of two black inmates at a Pennsylvania prison.
Also on trial are Edgar "The Snail" Hevle, 54, and Christopher Overton Gibson, 46.
The indictment alleges a web of conspiracies to murder inmates who offended gang members, cheated on drug deals, failed to comply with leaders' orders or snitched.
Defense attorney Dean Steward, who represents Mills, said nearly all of the government's case was based on jailhouse informants who had been coached and had months to get their stories straight.