Federal authorities plan to seek the death penalty against the leader of a violent white supremacist gang that infiltrated the Nevada prison system, but all parties involved in the case have agreed to hold off until the nation’s new administration is in place.
The U.S. attorney’s office must secure approval to pursue the death penalty against Aryan Warrior leader Ronald “Joey” Sellers from the attorney general. If the country’s current top officer gives the nod and the incoming attorney general disagrees, the U.S. attorney’s office would be forced to change course in the middle of preparing for trial.
U.S. Attorney for Nevada Gregory Brower said a new president will have little impact on the manner in which his office operates.
“We are just going to keep moving forward,” he said. “Once you start trying to figure out what changes the new attorney general is going to make, you become paralyzed and you can’t be effective.”
Despite Brower’s insistence that cases handled by his office will not be slowed by the transition from one administration to another, that was cited as one of the reasons to hold off on the trial involving Sellers.
Sellers is accused of heading a prison gang that distributed methamphetamine, sought to corrupt prison guards, and assaulted fellow prisoners in racially motivated attacks that left one inmate dead.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Bliss agreed to the postponement, telling Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen that the “protocol” for death penalty cases might change when President-elect Barack Obama takes office.
Bliss told Leen that her office will wait to move forward with the case against the 39-year-old alleged gang leader until Obama is sworn in and the Department of Justice settles in under the new administration.
Indiana-based attorney Richard Kammen, who represents Sellers, also asked for a delay. Kammen suggested that the case should be postponed until “a new U.S. attorney is selected for Nevada.”
New administrations often choose new U.S. attorneys, although Brower’s fate is unclear.
Also contributing to the delay in the Sellers’ case is his attorney’s concerns about the health of his client.
In a motion filed with the court, Kammen complained about a physician who examined Sellers in prison. He said the physician diagnosed his client with hepatitis C but decided he was not a candidate for treatment.
Kammen questioned the diagnosis and asked whether it meant that Sellers does not have long to live. He also urged the court to determine whether treatment is available and, if so, order that it be administered.
If the court doesn’t do so, Kammen wrote, it is essentially telling Sellers “since the government seeks to kill you, we will let that happen without trial, sentence or appeal.”
The government and defense attorneys are attempting to work out plea agreements for 13 other Aryan Warriors indicted in May.
The indictment alleges that members of the gang, led by Sellers, killed an inmate in 2006 and stabbed another member of their white supremacist clan last year.
The gang was also charged with bribing public officials with drugs and money as well as extorting prisoners and their relatives.
Contact Adrienne Packer at apacker @reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710.