Informant: Hale smiled, nodded to kill

FBI mole testifies that Hale spoke in code, gestured his approval 17, 2004
By Mike Ramsey

Chicago -- White supremacist Matt Hale smiled and nodded his head when asked in late 2002 if he wanted a federal judge killed, an FBI informant testified Friday in Hale's trial on murder-solicitation charges.

Tony Evola's testimony was the first public mention of the account. Posing as Hale's bodyguard, Evola wore a wire and recorded a series of oblique conversations between himself and the racist leader from East Peoria.

The tapes have become a large part of the government's case that Hale, the 32-year-old "pontifex maximus" of the World Church of the Creator, solicited the murder of U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow after she entered an order against his group in a trademark suit. Hale was arrested in January 2003 in Chicago and has been jailed without bond.

Under cross-examination, Evola agreed Hale doesn't specifically ask in the recordings for anyone to be killed but has said Hale spoke in "code."

He said he knew Hale meant business on Dec. 5, 2002, during a private exchange in which Evola inquired whether they would "exterminate the rat," a reference to Lefkow, if he could obtain her home address.

Hale put his hands behind his head, sat back in a chair, smiled and nodded while saying, "basically, 'You can do what you want,' " Evola said from the witness stand. He demonstrated the actions.

The government's transcript of the conversation at Hale's East Peoria home - Hale is quoted as saying, "Well, whatever you want to do" - doesn't indicate any non-verbal communication. Federal prosecutors earlier this week did not ask Evola about any gestures Hale may have made.

"You're telling us that (Hale) sat back in his chair and nodded 'yes'?" Hale's lead defense attorney, Thomas Durkin, asked.

"Yes, sir, with a smile on his face," Evola replied.

Hale's parents, who sat on a courtroom bench, reacted audibly to the information. It came at the close of Evola's third day of testimony, which resumes next week at Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago.

"Stick around for Monday," Durkin told reporters in the courthouse lobby. "I can't answer your questions about the evidence, but we're not done."

Evola, who has a disability, said earlier this week that the FBI paid him $72,000 during the roughly three-year period he worked for the agency. He said he agreed to be an FBI mole in Hale's group after one of its followers asked him to distribute racist pamphlets to schoolchildren. He said he does not subscribe to Hale's racist views.

Durkin says Evola, not the reluctant Hale, was trying to stir up trouble during conversations between the two. Evola took direction from agents and said he kept suggesting violence to Hale to determine whether his other associates were plotting crimes.

Another government witness, former Hale assistant Jon Fox, claims Hale solicited him to kill Judge Lefkow, but he admitted in court this week that he holds a grudge against his former leader.

The government infiltrated Hale's group, which had branches and members in other states and countries, after the July 1999 shooting spree of Benjamin Smith. The 21-year-old Hale disciple killed two non-whites and wounded several others, including a Springfield man, before committing suicide.

Hale publicly disavowed the violence, but prosecutors have played tape recordings of him praising the killings and using racial slurs.

Durkin said he didn't know whether Hale, who is attending court in an orange prisoner's jumpsuit at his own choosing, will testify when the defense presents its side next week. The trial, which began Monday with testimony, is expected to wrap up by week's end, and a racially diverse jury from the Chicago region will decide Hale's fate.

He faces two counts of soliciting violence and three counts of obstructing justice - offenses that could yield several years in prison. His organization is prohibited from using the name World Church of the Creator because of the trademark lawsuit and is largely defunct.

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