Circling above Orange County in a helicopter, Anaheim Police Sgt. Bryan Santy spied the green Ford Taurus fishtailing toward a run-down apartment complex. On the ground, a pair of undercover officers were chasing the car, which had been reported stolen.
Through binoculars, Santy saw the Taurus slow to a crawl and two skinheads, Michael Lamb and Jacob Rump, jump out, trailed closely on foot by Sgt. Michael Helmick and Det. Danny Allen. Within moments, one of the skinheads popped up from the balcony of an upstairs apartment and fired a pistol at Helmick. He missed, and the two eventually surrendered.
The arrest of Lamb and Rump that day inadvertently provided police with what they say is a smoking gun in the 2002 execution-style killing of a founder of Public Enemy Number One, a white supremacist group.
Ballistic tests showed that the weapon fired at Helmick was the same 9mm pistol that had put a bullet into the back of Scott "Scottish" Miller's head three days earlier.
Now, five years later, Lamb and Rump, their gang and the gun are at the center of a high-profile murder trial in Orange County Superior Court. Lamb, the alleged triggerman, could face the death penalty if convicted. Rump could face up to life in prison without parole. Both are also charged with trying to murder Helmick.
A jury began deliberating their fate last week.
For more than a month, under heavy security, about 100 witnesses have passed through the courtroom of Judge William R. Froeberg.
Many were members or associates of Public Enemy Number One, which was formed in the mid-1980s and came under intense scrutiny after authorities learned of a hit list that included a local judge, prosecutors and police.
In testimony at times sarcastic and vulgar, and with memories dulled by drug and alcohol abuse, the witnesses provided a disturbing look at the motley crew that inhabits the gang's racist and violent netherworld.
"I'm drunk all the time," one young defense witness offered as an excuse for her amnesia on the stand.
"What do you mean?" the judge interrupted.
She said she went nowhere without a bottle of whiskey and a bag of marijuana.
When it was his turn on the stand, a gang member and key government witness testified that he was drunk on vodka when he drove his car through a line of Huntington Beach police cruisers in 2005 and led officers on an hourlong chase to San Diego before his arrest.
"I wanted to finish my drink. And smoke some cigarettes," the witness explained.
Public Enemy Number One has roots in the Long Beach area and was organized to "secure the existence of our people and a future for white children," according to authorities and trial testimony.
The gang spread to Orange County and the Inland Empire beginning in the 1980s. It now has between 100 and 300 members throughout Southern California who allegedly participate in drug dealing, identity thefts, forgeries and counterfeiting.
Miller, 38, who helped form the gang, was found face down in a pool of blood near a trash bin in an Anaheim alley on March 8, 2002. He died of a gunshot wound to the head after leaving a party in Costa Mesa.
Miller was killed 13 months after he appeared on Fox News in Los Angeles, talking candidly about the gang's history and secrets. On a videotape of the broadcast, Miller is silhouetted and his voice disguised. But his identity was given away by camera shots that showed his pit bull and his tattoos.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Ebrahim Baytieh, an experienced gang prosecutor, has set out to prove that Miller's death was payback for appearing on the news broadcast, and that gang leader and prison inmate Donald "Popeye" Mazza ordered Lamb and Rump to carry out the execution.
One of Baytieh's key witnesses is Darryl Mason, a shot-caller-turned-informer. Shot-caller is a gang term meaning leader or decision-maker.
"It was known we were supposed to get him," testified Mason, who has been in prison 13 times.
His ink-stained body carries symbols of the Third Reich, and his police record speaks loudly of his days in Public Enemy Number One.
Mason has stolen cars, beaten people and been caught more than once with methamphetamine, he acknowledged on the stand. He once shot a man who pulled a gun on him, but the criminal case against him was later dropped as a matter of self-defense.
Swastikas and "SS" markings tattooed on his shoulders echo sympathies with Nazi Germany. The back of his arms carry the words "White Pride."
Mason testified that Lamb admitted to him in June 2002 that he had killed Miller. At the time, both were in the same Orange County jail where, Mason testified, he "had the keys."
Having the keys, he explained, meant that he was notified of major gang activities while in custody, and that he made the final call on any decision involving the group.
Mason testified that not only was Lamb telling every "knick knack" (inmate) in the yard that he had "whacked" Miller, but he also boasted about it directly to him through the door of his cell.