Three indicted in 1998 hate killings

After 13½ years, federal authorities say they finally may have brought to justice all of those involved in the slayings of two anti-racist skinheads.

A federal grand jury has indicted three more people in the 1998 hate-crime killings of Lin Newborn, 25, and Daniel Shersty, 21.

Among those charged is Melissa Hack, 37, the former girlfriend of John "Polar Bear" Butler, 40, a neo-Nazi who was convicted in District Court in the double-murder case. Also charged was Hack's brother, Ross Hack, 40, and Leland Jones, 31.

All three defendants, who were associated with "racist neo-Nazi" groups at the time of the slayings, face federal first-degree murder and firearms charges, the Justice Department announced in a news release.

"This case demonstrates that the Department of Justice will be vigilant in working to ensure that every perpetrator of racially motivated violence is brought to justice," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.

Kevin Favreau, FBI special agent in charge in Las Vegas, said the indictments would not have been possible without the "extraordinary effort and dedication" of the FBI agents, Las Vegas police detectives and federal prosecutors who worked the case.

"Even though it was difficult, and it took a very long time to fully investigate, the FBI and Metro never gave up on this case," Favreau said, adding that "the public can rest assured that all those responsible for the murders of Daniel Shersty and Lin Newborn will finally face justice."

Nevada U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden praised investigators for their "persistence" and said, "We will pursue the prosecution of these defendants with equal vigor."

Butler, the leader of the Independent Nazi Skins at the time of the slayings, is serving two life sentences at High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs. He was given a death sentence, but it was overturned.

The murder investigation remained open after Butler's Dec. 29, 2000, conviction, as the FBI took a prominent role.

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, where they were ambushed and fatally shot. The two men were expecting to party.

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.

Melissa Hack was charged in July 2010 with lying to investigators about the slayings. She has yet to stand trial on the federal charge and is fighting in court to suppress her statements.

Late Wednesday, Melissa Hack and Jones, who were taken into federal custody, pleaded not guilty to the charges before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bill Hoffman.

At the request of prosecutors, Hoffman ordered both defendants to remain behind bars pending a May 8 trial.

Ross Hack, who was in prison in Arizona when the murder indictment was unsealed, is being transported to Las Vegas to enter a plea to the charges on March 14.

A federal judge in Los Angeles sentenced Ross Hack to three years in prison in 2009 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.

In court Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Bliss, who is prosecuting the case with a lawyer from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, told Hoffman that both of the Hacks are eligible for the death penalty in this case.

That is likely to delay the trial date as the Justice Department decides whether to pursue capital punishment, Bliss said.

Jones, who has no previous criminal record, is not eligible for the death penalty because he was 17 at the time of the 1998 killings.

But in arguing to keep Jones in custody, Bliss described him as one of the shooters in the "very gruesome" slayings. Three weapons, a shotgun and two handguns, were used to kill Newborn and Shersty, she said.

Bliss argued that Melissa Hack has had a long criminal record since the slayings, including a felony drug conviction and probation revocations. She was involved in a chase with Henderson police during which shots were fired at the officers, Bliss said.

One of Melissa Hack's lawyers, Brent Bryson, countered that her criminal record was well-known to prosecutors before the murder charges were filed and that she was not a flight risk.

"She's not going anywhere," Bryson said. "She's here to fight the charges. She's never run, never."

Melissa Hack started sobbing when Bryson told Hoffman that she recently gave birth to a baby and has strong ties to the community.

Hoffman, however, said the "seriousness of the offenses" warranted keeping both her and Jones behind bars.