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2 gang members guilty of murder

Jury convicts the pair of killing the founder of their white supremacist organization.

July 11, 2007|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

Two members of the gang Public Enemy Number One were convicted Tuesday of executing a founder of the white supremacist organization in 2002 in retaliation for giving away some of its secrets on a television news program.

Michael Lamb and Jacob Rump also were convicted of trying to kill an undercover police officer who was on their trail three days after gang founder Scott Miller was found dead in an Anaheim alley with a single gunshot wound to the back of his head.

The verdict in the Orange County courtroom came after an exhaustive trial that exposed the depths of the hate group's violent underworld. Public Enemy openly promotes white power and gained notoriety for putting out a hit list with a judge, prosecutors and police on it.

Ten sheriff's deputies stood watch as the verdict was read. Lamb and Rump showed little reaction before being led away in handcuffs.

As the gallery cleared, Deputy Dist. Atty. Ebrahim Baytieh hugged Miller's weeping mother. Both left without speaking with reporters.

Lamb, 33, could face the death penalty as the triggerman in Miller's slaying. The punishment phase of his trial begins today with the same jury deciding his fate. Rump, 31, was scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 31. He faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Marlin Stapleton, who represents Lamb, said his client was disappointed but was taking the convictions "really good." Stapleton said he was not surprised by the outcome, considering a partial verdict reached earlier this month and the length of time it took for the jury to reach a final decision on all counts.

In the partial verdict, Lamb was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in the slaying of Miller and of being a felon in possession of a firearm in the attempted shooting of the police officer. Rump also was convicted of the firearm charge.

The partial verdict was announced July 2, six days into deliberations, after a juror brought a doctor's note to the court explaining that he was too ill to continue. An alternate replaced him, forcing the jury to start deliberating from scratch on a number of more serious counts against Lamb and Rump. The newly configured panel deliberated for nearly four more days.

Miller, 38, was killed in March 2002, about a year after he appeared on Fox News in Los Angeles and talked about the gang he helped organize in the 1980s and which now has an estimated 300 members in Southern California. Miller thought he was disguised during the interview, in which he was silhouetted and his voice altered. But his tattoos were visible in some shots, and his pit bull was recognizable in others.

Lamb and Rump, both of Huntington Beach, were taken into custody three days later, after a wild police chase that started with a report of a stolen car and ended with Lamb shooting at -- and missing -- an Anaheim police officer who, together with his partner, was chasing the pair with the help of a police helicopter. Ballistics tests showed that the gun was the one that fired the fatal bullet into Miller.

The trial before Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg lasted more than a month, exposing a world of drugs, alcohol and violence. Many of the 100 or so witnesses who testified, some covered with tattoos of swastikas and other Nazi symbols, were members or associates of the gang. Some admitted that their memories had been dulled by years of substance abuse.

Former Public Enemy Number One shot-caller Darryl Mason, a key prosecution witness, testified that it was widely known that Miller had to pay for talking to the media about the gang's drug trafficking and other operations. Mason also testified that three months after the murder, while he was at an Orange County jail, Lamb came to his cell and boasted that he was the one who "whacked" Miller.

"He started telling me how he whacked Scottish [Miller's nickname] and that he had his stripes coming for that," Mason said on the stand. "I remember him telling me he shot him. Seemed to me he was looking for a pat on the back or something."

Defense attorneys attempted to poke holes in the prosecution's case by focusing on another suspect, career criminal Billy Joe Johnson. Currently serving 45 years to life for beating a man to death with a hammer, Johnson was escorted into the courtroom under tight security, sporting a Mohawk haircut and mutton-chop sideburns.

Johnson testified that on the night in question, he was at his cousin's birthday party in Costa Mesa when he ran into Miller, a friend of 30 years. They left together to buy heroin at an Anaheim apartment complex. When they arrived, Johnson said, he ambushed Miller as they walked down an alley. He said he did it because he was upset with Miller about appearing on the news show and because of problems between them involving women.

"I just reached in my waistband and grabbed my gun and blasted him," he testified.

Johnson said he gave Lamb the gun the next night, when the two men ended up at the same Anaheim bar by coincidence. Johnson quoted Lamb as saying he needed the gun to defend Public Enemy members against Mexican Mafia members.

Johnson said he mistakenly had told Lamb the gun was "hot," meaning stolen, instead of warning him that it was a "hot one," or a murder weapon.

Under cross-examination, Johnson could not accurately describe the gun after testifying that he had owned it for six months. The pistol holds 13 rounds and has safeties on both sides, but Johnson testified that it held 11 bullets and had one safety.

christine.hanley@latimes.com

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