Defense starts in skinhead murder case

Murder defendant Ross Hack began presenting his case Tuesday during a federal trial that stems from two 1998 shooting deaths.

Hack is standing trial with co-defendant Leland Jones in the Las Vegas case. According to trial testimony, both men were associated with neo-Nazi skinhead groups at the time of the killings.

Janessa Wilson took the witness stand Tuesday and identified Hack as one of her two brothers.

“Have you ever known him to be a violent individual?” Assistant Federal Public Defender Michael Kennedy asked.

“Never,” Wilson replied.

Authorities have said Lin “Spit” Newborn, 25, and Daniel Shersty, 20, were killed because they were members of a skinhead group that opposed racial prejudice. Newborn was black, and Shersty was white.

Wilson said she grew up in Las Vegas but now works as a tennis instructor in Bellevue, Wash. She is 34, and Ross Hack is 42.

The witness said her sister, Melissa, once dated John “Polar Bear” Butler, who earlier was convicted of both murders in Clark County District Court.

Wilson said Butler and her sister used and sold drugs together, and had a violent, on-and-off relationship.

“He had beaten her up multiple times,” Wilson testified.

The witness said she used methamphetamine with her sister and Butler during that time.

Wilson’s testimony came a day after Melissa Hack testified as a government witness.

“I believe that she’s untruthful,” Wilson told jurors.

A federal grand jury indicted Ross Hack, Melissa Hack and Jones in February 2012, the same month Mandie Abels secretly pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in the two deaths.

Melissa Hack pleaded guilty in May to the conspiracy charge.

Both Abels, who was Ross Hack’s girlfriend at the time of the killings, and Melissa Hack have admitted they lured the victims to a remote desert site on federal land in northwest Las Vegas, where the shootings occurred in the early morning hours of July 4, 1998.

Abels and Butler both testified for the government last week.

During cross-examination Tuesday, prosecutor Patricia Sumner questioned Wilson about her brother Ross.

“He was a skinhead?” the attorney asked.

“Correct,” Wilson replied.

“Just like you?” Sumner asked.

“Incorrect,” the witness replied.

Sumner, a trial attorney with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, then asked Wilson about photos taken during a search of her parents’ home, where she lived, after the killings. The attorney specifically questioned Wilson about a photo of a red flight jacket.

“That’s yours, isn’t it?” Sumner asked.

“Correct,” Wilson said.

The attorney then asked Wilson about the SS patch, denoting the quasi-military unit of the Nazi party, on one sleeve and the phrase “slave wanted” on the other.

“But you weren’t a skinhead?” Sumner persisted.

Wilson explained that she hung out with skinheads but did not consider herself one.

The witness also was asked about her April 1998 marriage to Jones.

“He was probably my best friend at the time,” Wilson said.

The witness said she married him on a lark, although they never dated. She said they never even kissed.

“I believe I was 18, and he may have been 17,” she said.

Wilson, who has remarried, did not say how long her marriage to Jones lasted.

The witness said she has three children and is caring for her sister’s young son. Melissa Hack gave birth weeks before her February 2012 arrest.

“It was kind of selfish for her to have a child knowing the situation she was in,” Wilson said.

Wilson also said she recently spent several days with Ross Hack’s 11-year-old daughter.

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710. Find her on Twitter: @CarriGeer.