Ross Hack was on the verge of being released from an Arizona prison when a federal grand jury in Las Vegas indicted him last month in connection with the racially motivated shooting deaths of two men in 1998.
"Mr. Hack was set to be released any time," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Bliss said Friday.
But U.S. Magistrate Judge George Foley Jr. ensured that will not happen, ruling that Hack must remain in custody while awaiting trial in the murder case.
Hack was transported from the Federal Correctional Institution in Safford, Ariz., where he is serving time for lying on a passport application, for his first court appearance in Las Vegas since the Feb. 28 indictment.
The indictment charges Hack, 40, with two counts of murder and two counts of using a firearm during a crime of violence. He pleaded not guilty Friday to all the counts.
"He's entered a strong not-guilty plea, and we're going to contest the case," Assistant Federal Public Defender Michael Kennedy said after the hearing.
Also charged in the murder case are Hack's sister, Melissa, and Leland Jones. They previously pleaded not guilty to all counts and also must remain behind bars while awaiting trial.
According to a statement from the Justice Department, prosecutors expect to introduce evidence at trial that all three defendants were associated with racist neo-Nazi skinhead groups at the time of the slayings.
The defendants are accused of killing Lin Newborn, 25, and Daniel Shersty, 21.
Melissa Hack, 37, is the former girlfriend of John "Polar Bear" Butler, 40, a neo-Nazi who was convicted in Clark County District Court in 2000 for participating in the murders.
Butler, the leader of the Independent Nazi Skins at the time of the slayings, is serving two life sentences at the High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs. He was given a death sentence, but it was overturned.
Prosecutors have theorized that Newborn, who was black, and Shersty, who was white, were killed because they were members of a skinhead group that opposed racial prejudice.
Authorities allege Melissa Hack helped lure Newborn and Shersty to a remote desert site on federal land near Powerline Road and Centennial Parkway between July 3 and July 4, 1998, before they were ambushed and fatally shot. The two men were expecting to party.
In court on Friday, Bliss argued for Ross Hack's continued detention. She described him as a flight risk and a danger to the community.
A federal judge in Los Angeles sentenced Ross Hack in 2009 to three years in prison for lying on his 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.
Bliss said Ross Hack's prison term expires Sept. 6, but officials were planning to send him to a halfway house soon to start his transition to complete freedom.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins, who prosecuted Ross Hack in the Los Angeles case, attended Friday's hearing.
Bliss described Ross Hack as a leader of the racist Christian Identity movement in Las Vegas.
The prosecutor told Foley the federal murder charges make the Hacks eligible for the death penalty.
A trial is scheduled for May 8, but a delay is expected while Justice Department officials decide whether to pursue capital punishment.
Jones, 31, is not eligible for the death penalty because he was 17 at the time of the killings.
Ross Hack sported short brown hair and a bright yellow jumpsuit labeled "DETAINEE" at Friday's hearing. His right arm was covered with tattoos, including an iron cross -- a symbol of the German military -- on his elbow.
He politely answered several questions from the judge, and in response to a question about his education, he described himself as a "university graduate."
Foley appointed the federal public defender's office to represent Ross Hack after the defendant said he could not afford a private lawyer.
Assistant Federal Public Defender Kennedy requested that Ross Hack be returned to federal prison "forthwith."
Melissa Hack was charged in July 2010 with making a false statement to investigators.
She has yet to stand trial in that federal case and is fighting in court to suppress her statements.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at email@example.com or 702-384-8710.