John “Polar Bear” Butler told jurors on Friday that he decided to admit his involvement in two 1998 murders because, at age 43, he no longer wants the violent life of a gang member.
“I’m a better man,” he said. “My wife helped changed me.”
Butler was convicted of the racially motivated murders in 2000 in Clark County District Court but continued to profess his innocence until a 2011 meeting with federal authorities.
“I saw this as an opportunity for me to continue to change my life,” he explained.
On the witness stand Thurday, Butler publicly admitted his involvement in the two shooting deaths for the first time while also pointing the finger at five other people.
Authorities always knew others had participated in the killings, but they lacked the evidence to charge other suspects until 2012.
A federal grand jury indicted Ross Hack, Melissa Hack and Leland Jones in February 2012, the same month Mandie Abels secretly pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the two deaths.
Abels testified this week during the trial of Ross Hack and Jones.
Melissa Hack, Ross Hack’s sister and Butler’s former girlfriend, pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to commit murder and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors. She is expected to testify during the trial.
In addition to admitting their involvement in the two deaths, Abels and Butler identified the Hacks, Jones and Daniel Hartung as participants. All six were associated with racist neo-Nazi skinhead groups at the time of the killings.
Hartung died in a traffic accident in 2012.
Authorities have said Lin “Spit” Newborn, 25, and Daniel Shersty, 21, were killed because they were members of a skinhead group that opposed racial prejudice. Newborn was black, and Shersty was white.
Abels and Melissa Hack have admitted they helped lure the victims to the desert area where they were killed. The killings occurred on federal land in northwest Las Vegas.
Butler testified that he once was president of the Independent Nazi Skins, which had members in several western states. He said he later joined the Aryan Warriors, a racist prison gang.
In exchange for his cooperation, Butler said, authorities promised to place him in the federal witness protection program and to move his wife to a location near him.
And should he seek parole or a pardon, he said, federal prosecutors have promised to write a letter stating that he willingly gave truthful testimony in the federal murder case.
Butler is serving a life prison sentence with no possibility of parole.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at email@example.com or 702-384-8710. Find her on Twitter: @CarriGeer.