Charge bares cold-case probe


A new criminal case against the former girlfriend of a convicted murderer reveals that federal authorities are investigating the 1998 shooting deaths of two men who opposed racial prejudice.

Clark County prosecutors contended long ago that Melissa Hack helped lure the two victims to the desert, where they were ambushed and fatally shot, but she was never charged in connection with the high-profile murders.

A sealed complaint, listing one count of making a false statement, was filed against Hack, 34, in July. It has since been unsealed and replaced with a federal indictment on the same charge.

"What's happening here is they have been unable to piece the case together, because we all know if they had enough evidence against her, they'd charge her," said Hack's attorney, Brent Bryson. "They don't, so they're putting the squeeze on her in other ways, trying to make her feel the pressure."

The prosecutors listed on the indictment are Avner Shapiro, a trial attorney with the Justice Department's civil rights division, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Bliss. Trial is set for March 1.

Fred Merrick, a Las Vegas police violent crimes section detective, prepared the complaint against Hack. According to the document, he was deputized about a year earlier as a temporary federal agent to work with the FBI on the 1998 cold case, which occurred on federal land and "involved subjects... identified with one or more neo-Nazi Skinhead groups."

Hack's former boyfriend, John "Polar Bear" Butler, 38, was the only person charged with the murders. He was convicted in Clark County District Court and sentenced to die, but the death sentence was overturned. He's serving a life sentence at High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs.

Butler was a leader of the Independent Nazi Skins when he participated in the murders of Lin Newborn, 25, and Daniel Shersty, 21. Prosecutors theorize that the victims were killed because they were members of a skinhead group that opposed racial prejudice, and have said the victims were lured into the desert early on July 4, 1998 by Hack and another, unidentified woman Newborn met while working at Tribal Body Piercing.

Newborn and Shersty went to the desert near Powerline Road and Centennial Parkway expecting to party but instead were shot, prosecutors said. "John Butler didn't do it alone," Chief Deputy District Attorney Christopher Laurent said in 2003. "At this point, we have not amassed sufficient evidence to charge anyone else, but the statute of limitations for murder never runs out."

On Friday, Laurent said he was unaware of the ongoing federal investigation.

"The district attorney's office has not received any additional information that would allow us to proceed on anyone else for these murders," he said.

According to the federal complaint, "The investigation identified several subjects who were suspected of luring the victims into the desert the night they were killed."

In the new complaint, Merrick noted that Hack associated with the Independent Nazi Skins. Hack's brother Ross, also a neo-Nazi skinhead, and others in the group were feuding with Newborn, he wrote. "Based upon the investigation into the murders, (Melissa) Hack is considered to be a subject."

According to the new federal complaint, Melissa Hack met June 16 with a Nevada parole officer supervising her on unrelated narcotics charges.

Merrick and FBI Special Agent Kevin Sheehan were there to question her about the murders and to collect fingerprints and DNA pursuant to a federal search warrant. When asked if she had her cell phone with her, Melissa Hack said she had left it at work and that a friend, who was waiting in the lobby, had driven her to the parole office.

The parole officer then talked to the man who had given Melissa Hack a ride and learned that she had put something in the center console of his car. The phone had stored photos of Melissa Hack and "numerous additional individuals she visibly appeared to associate with. Some of the individuals bore tattoos or signs and symbols that could be relevant to the 1998 murder investigation."

Bryson said the federal charge against his client, who works for her father's vitamin company, amounts to a "thin case" filed in retaliation for her perceived lack of cooperation during the murder investigation.

"If she continues to be harassed, many options are being considered..." the lawyer said. "It's pretty well known I handle a lot of civil rights lawsuits."

However, Bryson added, "At this point, I have nothing to demonstrate that the government is acting in bad faith."

A federal judge in Los Angeles last year sentenced Ross Hack to three years in prison for lying on a passport application while under investigation in the double murder case. He came under scrutiny in January 2008, after he was identified as an organizer of a white supremacist rally in Las Vegas where an individual was assaulted and nearly killed.

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710.

 

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