Hale Says Coach's Murder 'Must Have Been Fun'

Associated Press/April 15, 2004

Chicago -- A jury heard a secretly taped conversation Thursday on which white supremacist leader Matthew Hale says "it must have been pretty fun" for one of his followers to shoot and kill former Northwestern University basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong.

It was the second of 14 tapes of Hale conversations made by FBI informant Anthony Evola, who served as Hale's bodyguard for two years while secretly reporting to authorities.

"He got out of the car and just walked up to him and point-blank range," Hale says, recounting the Byrdsong shooting. "I'm guessing the first shot killed him. Anyway, it must have been pretty fun."

He says the shooter always disliked the sport of basketball.

The conversation, taped June 23, 2000, referred to the 1999 rampage in which Hale follower Benjamin Smith roamed across Illinois and Indiana for two days, killing two people and wounding a number of others before turning the gun on himself as police closed in.

Hale, 32, is on trial on unrelated charges of soliciting the murder of U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow, who ruled against him in an unrelated trademark lawsuit in 2002. He also faces obstruction of justice charges, including one count accusing him of urging his father to lie to a federal grand jury by saying Hale broke down in tears while being interviewed about Smith's rampage.

Jurors heard another of Evola's tapes on Wednesday on which Hale can also be heard laughing about the shootings and saying he's "not sorry for the mud families," a word some white supremacists use for nonwhites.

"We're sorry for Brother Smith and his family," Hale says.

Defense attorneys say the FBI inserted Evola into the East Peoria-based white supremacist group to provoke Hale into committing some act that would enable federal agents to arrest him.

On another tape played Thursday, Hale, a graduate of Southern Illinois University law school, complains about the ruling of the Illinois Supreme Court that he was unfit to hold a license to practice law because he lacked sufficient moral character.

He tells his listeners that if he continues to be denied a law license he will no longer be able to counsel his followers to obey the law. At one point, Hale cracks jokes about how he would advertise his services if he somehow received a license to practice law in New York.

"Matt Hale -- anti-Semitic attorney," he chuckles. "If you're charged with attacking a Jew, you should have good representation."

The tapes played so far have been drenched in Hale's racial slurs and anti-Semitism, but the jury, which includes five blacks and a Latino, has shown little reaction.

Evola on Wednesday testified that he was introduced to Hale while working as a pizza delivery man and that members of Hale's group wanted him to distribute pamphlets to school children. Instead, he called the school system to warn it.

The school system put Evola in touch with authorities.

One of Evola's tapes, which the jury was expected to hear, contains a conversation between Hale and Evola about Lefkow. Evola asks, "Are we gonna exterminate the rat?" And Hale responds, "Well, whatever you want to do, basically."

Prosecutors say Hale wanted the judge dead because she issued an order barring his group from using the name World Church of the Creator because it was trademarked by another organization. Oregon-based TE-TA-MA Truth Foundation -- Family of URI, Inc., which holds the trademark, has no ties to Hale and says it does not share his white supremacist views.

Defense attorneys have said the only person urging violence against Lefkow on the tape is the informant.

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