The Hispanic stepfather of murder defendant Leland Jones testified Wednesday that the two had a close relationship.
“We kept getting closer through the years,” John Sanchez said.
Federal prosecutors allege Jones, 33, and co-defendant Ross Hack, 42, were associated with racist skinhead groups when they participated in the deadly shootings of two Las Vegas men in the early morning hours of July 4, 1998.
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.
Prosecutors rested their case Monday in the federal murder trial, and the defense began calling witnesses Tuesday.
Sanchez, who married Jones’ mother more than two decades ago, said he never saw his stepson exhibit violence.
“He and I had our disagreements, but there was no cussing at each other, no fisticuffs,” he told the jury.
The witness also said Jones’ friends never treated him poorly.
Jones’ mother, Mary Sanchez, testified briefly Wednesday and said her son was 11 when she left his father. She said she married Sanchez within the next year.
The woman, who breathed oxygen from a tank as she testified, said her son has two daughters.
Texas resident Heidi McDowell testified Wednesday and recalled seeing Hack on the evening of July 4, 1998, when she and others watched his band rehearse at a tattoo shop. She was on vacation in Las Vegas at the time and said she had known Hack for about two years.
McDowell said she later sent a letter to Hack’s then-girlfriend, Mandie Abels, in which she wrote about how much she had enjoyed the music that evening.
On cross-examination, the witness said she knew Hack played in a skinhead band whose songs featured lyrics about white supremacy.
McDowell denied she is a skinhead, although she admitted she signed her letter to Abels with “14/88,” a code used by white supremacists.
The number 14 represents a 14-word phrase that serves as a motto for many neo-Nazi skinheads: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
McDowell said she did not know the 14 words specifically but understood the general meaning of the phrase they formed.
“It’s about being proud of being white,” she said.
The number 88 represents two H’s, the eighth letter of the alphabet, and stands for “Heil Hitler.”
Abels and Hack’s sister, Melissa, both have admitted to luring the victims to a desert area in northwest Las Vegas, where the two men were ambushed and fatally shot.
Jonathan Finch, an instructor at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, testified Wednesday and recalled having Ross Hack as a student in 2000, when Finch was teaching political philosophy at the University of New York in Prague.
Finch described Ross Hack as a “very good student” and said the two developed a friendship. The instructor said Ross Hack was not a violent person but a “normal college student.”
While in Europe, Ross Hack was married and had a child, Finch said.
Ross Hack fled to Europe a month after the killings. He was arrested in 2008 in a passport fraud case after returning to the United States, and he later received a three-year prison sentence. He and Jones were indicted in the federal murder case in 2012.
Senior U.S. District Judge Philip Pro is presiding over the trial, which began Aug. 19.
After Wednesday’s testimony, Pro read a juror’s question to lawyers involved in the case. The juror wanted to hear a sample of music from Ross Hack’s band, Stronghold.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at email@example.com or 702-384-8710. Find her on Twitter: @CarriGeer.