Mario “Paco” Barroso, a 66-year-old member of the Iron Coffins Motorcycle Club in Battle Creek, Michigan was sentenced this week for the New Year’s Day 2012 death of former club president Lee J. “Leeroy” Taylor.
Two other men had also been charged with Taylor’s homicide. It was a case in which prosecutors were determined to make somebody pay.
According to local police, Taylor and Iron Coffins member Matthew Starkweather got into a fight at the club’s New Year’s party because Taylor owed Starkweather $2,500. After Starkweather knocked Taylor down Barroso and another patch holder named John Lindahl III ordered everybody who wasn’t a member out of the building. When police eventually arrived Starkweather had a stab wound in his neck and Taylor was dead of multiple blows to the head. Police charged Starkweather with murder on the spot.
Lindahl was arrested and charged with murder a month and a half later. Police accused both men of beating Taylor to death with a club and a shotgun. Both the accused men said Taylor had attacked them with a knife and a collapsible baton and they had acted in self defense.
Barroso was accused of being an accessory after the fact and offered a plea deal. The deal was, Barroso would testify in exchange for having the accessory charge dropped. But he didn’t testify. Or rather he testified that he couldn’t remember anything. So the prosecutor, a man named Jeff Kabot, dropped the charges against Starkweather and Lindahl and everybody walked. Kabot told the Battle Creek Enquirer, “I am concerned Mario would continue to change his story. “I don’t want to go into court crossing my fingers and hoping he will tell the truth.”
Earlier this year, a new prosecutor named David Gilbert decided to take another run at the case. He charged Barroso with murder. It was clearly a squeeze play. Gilbert imagined that Barroso had handed Starkweather and Lindahl the shotgun they had used to bludgeon Taylor. Rather than being an accessory after the fact, Gilbert imagined a theory of the crime in which Barroso “aided and abetted” the alleged crime.
Mercy Of The Court
Barroso never stood trial. In hopes of a compassionate deal he pled no contest to manslaughter in August. At that time Barroso’s lawyer Seymour Schwartz told the judge, “He never hit the guy, he never did anything, Even his own statement says he believed he was just unconscious when he left. I just don’t see where there’s a scintilla of evidence to support an open murder charge, or any of the associated charges with open murder.”
This week, Schwartz seemed surprised by the outcome of the case. “It was a fight, and a fight in the clubhouse, and everyone was drunk,” Schwartz told the Enquirer. “There was a significant beating but not one that exceeds or is significant that would separate it from any other fight other than a death occured. It was a mutual fight and one person lost the fight and lost it in a way that none of us ever want to see but tragically that is what happened.”
“I am very sorry for what happened to Mr. Taylor,” Barroso told Judge Conrad Sindt who was unmoved.
The local probation department had recommended a minimum sentence of 38 months for Barroso. Sindt sentenced Barroso to 71 to 180 months in prison. “I am struck by the idiocy of grown men acting like children,” the judge explained.