The Prosecution rested Friday in the Sioux Falls, South Dakota trial of two Hells Angels accused of shooting three members of the American Outlaw Association (AOA) and two women who were riding with the Outlaws.
The trial is supposed to determine the truth behind a shooting during the Black Hills Rally in August, 2006 that left five people injured. And it looks like whatever the jury decides the truth is will boil down to who they think shot first and straightest. So far, each side says the other club started it. And consequently, the trial is ripe with competing innuendos about which motorcycle club poses the greatest danger to law-abiding society.
The Defendants And The Case
The defendants are Chad Wilson, 33, a patched member of the Hells Angels and prospect John Midmore, 35. News accounts regularly identify Wilson as a resident of Lynnwood, Washington and Midmore as a resident of Valparaiso, Indiana. Actually, Wilson is a Canadian citizen and a member of the Dago Hells Angels and Midmore is a dual citizen of Australia and Canada who is prospecting the Haney Charter of HA in British Columbia.
The two men are being tried for five counts of attempted first-degree murder. A charge of conspiracy will be tried separately. The charges stem from a gun battle in a motel parking lot in Custer State Park about 70 miles south of Sturgis during the Black Hills Rally in 2006.
Prosecutors allege that Wilson and Midmore waited in a white pickup truck in the motel parking lot and ambushed the Outlaws. The defense has argued that the two defendants were surrounded by Outlaws and fought to save their lives.
The five victims have been identified as Thomas Hass, Al Mathews, Danny Neace, Claudia Wables and Susan Evans-Martin. The three men are members of the AOA, which is commonly called the Outlaws Motorcycle Club. Wables has been identified as the girlfriend of an Outlaw named Nathan Frazier. Frazier was also in the parking lot at the time of the shooting. And, Evans-Martin has been identified as Wables’ friend.
Neace was shot twice and is now paralyzed from the waist down. Hass was shot in the buttocks and is now partially paralyzed. Matthews was shot six times in the torso. Wables was shot in the shoulder. Evans-Martin was shot in the finger.
Neace was granted immunity from self-incrimination to testify for the prosecution. He faces a federal indictment in Michigan for conspiracy and assault on several members of the Hells Angels. The defendants allege that it was Neace who opened fire on them first.
The shooting was the first that could be connected to the Sturgis Rally since a fight with deadly force erupted between members of the AOA and the Sons Of Silence in a Sturgis bar in 1990.
Since Wilson and Midmore were charged, the defense has tried to establish that they had reasonable cause to fear that the Outlaws intended to hurt them.
The defendants are suing 19 government officials in Federal Court on grounds that the government has and is withholding law enforcement intelligence reports and surveillance tapes that would “demonstrate conclusively that Outlaws members planned to attack members of the Hells Angels in Cody, Wyoming during the month of July, 2006, as well as during the Sturgis motorcycle rally in August, 2006.”
The suit continues to argue, “The aforementioned information concerning the Outlaws’ planned violence against the Hells Angels was confirmed by Cody, Wyoming Police Chief Perry Rockvam in July 2006 based on information provided him by federal and state task force law enforcement sources. Knowledge of the planned attacks, and steps taken to carry them out on Hells Angels members, is crucial to the state of mind component necessary to prove self-defense.”
The suit, which will obviously be integral to an appeal, appears to say that the Outlaws have been infiltrated or surveilled by federal police -which almost certainly would mean officers of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)-and that the intelligence gathered by those officers is “relevant to prove (the defense) theory of self-defense and the state of mind of Mr. Wilson and Mr. Midmore.”
Frightening Hells Angels
Meanwhile, the Hells Angels have been burdened by the insinuation that they are the scariest motorcycle club of all.
During voir dire, several prospective jurors testified that they were “frightened” of judging defendants who were affiliated with the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. Last Monday, the judge ordered about a dozen Hells Angels attending the trial to remove their “intimidating” colors.
And, the most bizarre hour in the trial so far may have been the testimony of Custer State Park ranger James Laverick. Laverick is a retired FBI agent and it was he who actually “apprehended” Wilson and Midmore.
Laverick testified that the two defendants walked up to him, explained that their truck had broken down and asked for help. Some men might not have instantly wet themselves at this.
But the former G-man was not other men. He concluded that the two stranded motorists must be the awful, escaped Hells Angels gunmen that he had heard about on his radio. And, he would have arrested them then and there but he was so terrified of the two that he did not dare to try to do that all by himself.
Worse, it was only Laverick’s 10th day on the job and he had no idea what the police code was for “officer needs assistance.” So he radioed for a taxi cab instead. “I didn’t want to alert them to the fact that I was asking for backup,” Laverick told the jury. “I was concerned throughout this encounter.”
A few minutes later an armed deputy arrived and Laverick was finally able to effect the arrest.
A South Dakota Highway Patrolman who was the first peace officer to arrive at the motel parking lot described the scene as “very chaotic.” He said tourists were so panic-stricken that they were jumping into a lake fully clothed. He said he saw the defendants truck speeding from the scene. He saw Outlaws with guns drawn and he saw bodies. He knew something had happened but he did not actually see anything happen. So he had to reason some order out of the chaos he saw.
In another week or two the jury will have to do the same thing. The presentation of the evidence against the defendants might be fairly characterized as chaotic. And, in return the defense has attacked the collection, preservation and interpretation of almost every piece of that evidence.
From the opening arguments this has been a trial like a theological debate. It is truth and justice dressed up like Punch and Judy.
On Thursday the defense twice moved for a mistrial and at the conclusion of the prosecution’s case on Friday the defense moved for a directed verdict of not guilty.
“There has not been a single witness to indicate that either Wilson or Midmore was the first person to fire a shot,” defense attorney David Kenner told Judge Gene Kean.
Judge Kean overruled all four motions. He wants to see what the jury makes of this case.
The defense began its presentation Friday afternoon.