After three days of deliberation, following a 12 day trial, a South Dakota jury of seven women and five men has found two Hells Angels not guilty of trying to murder three Outlaws and two women travelling with them in 2006.
The jury began deliberating Tuesday afternoon and told the judge they were hung the next day. Judge Gene Kean told the panel to try again and they decided yesterday afternoon that the defendants had acted in self defense.
The acquitted are Chad Wilson, 33, a Canadian citizen and a patched member of the San Diego Charter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club and John Midmore, 35, a dual citizen of Canada and Australia who is a prospect with the Haney, British Columbia Charter of the Hells Angels.
Midmore was released from the Minnehaha County Jail on Friday. Wilson has been ordered held by officials of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and will probably be deported to Canada.
Midmore and Wilson shot Thomas Hass, Al Mathews, Danny Neace, Claudia Wables and Susan Evans-Martin on Aug. 8, 2006 in a motel parking lot in Custer State Park about 70 miles south of the Black Hills Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis. The three wounded men are members of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club which is formally called the American Outlaw Association (AOA). All three men were seriously wounded and Neace has been left paralyzed below the waist.
The prosecution alleged that the defendants had sought out and ambushed the Outlaws. The defense asked the jury to believe that Wilson and Midmore had gotten stoned on the way to a strip club, stopped for ice-cream, stumbled upon the Outlaws and were unable to escape without shooting their way out.
The prosecution presented 43 witnesses including numerous eyewitnesses. All five shooting victims testified for the state.
The defense presented only four witnesses including a professor of animation, a psychologist and a forensic examiner who is best known for his appearances on the cable television network HBO. Of the four defense witnesses only defendant Chad Wilson was actually at the shooting. Both sides agreed that Midmore stayed in the cab of a pickup truck during the shooting and he never took the stand.
The prosecution lost because it did not even try to show how this gunfight was different from any of the hundreds of gunfights, fist fights and knife fights between members of the Hells Angels and the Outlaws in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia over the last 35 years. Members of the two clubs have been trying to hurt each other ever since members of the Outlaws allegedly killed three Hells Angels in Florida in the spring of 1974.
One of the victims, Danny Neace, is under indictment for attacking a member of the Hells Angels.
The defense presented evidence that Federal authorities believed members of the Outlaws intended to attack Hells Angels in Cody, Wyoming and at Sturgis that summer. The defense also entered into evidence an August, 2007 federal indictment that alleged that Outlaws had attacked Hells Angels in the upper Midwest and a statement by U.S. Attorney Michael Smith made in Boston that alleged that the Outlaws “have been engaged in a gang war with the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club that has resulted in numerous shootings and fatalities.”
Wilson and his accusers admitted shooting at each other with .40 and .45 caliber automatic handguns. Each of the prosecution’s eye-witnesses conceded that the shooting scene was chaotic. And in the end, all the defense needed to raise was a reasonable doubt about whether the two Hells Angels had actually instigated a gunfight with nine Outlaws.
At least a dozen Hells Angels attended the trial daily. And, on the first day Judge Kean forbid them from wearing their colors. But, the judge rescinded his order after the jury began deliberations so at least a chapter’s worth of Hells Angels was in the courtroom in colors when the verdict was read.
No members of the AOA, not even the accusers, were present when the verdict was announced.
The Conspiracy Charge
Wilson and Midmore still face a charge of Conspiracy to Commit Murder for the shooting which itself carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison in South Dakota. Trying the men for that charge now however, probably illustrates the Constitutional prohibition on double jeopardy.
In the United States, prosecutors cannot keep trying people over and over for the same alleged crime until they get a conviction. In the United States, you only need to be proven innocent once.
The prosecution obviously brought the conspiracy charge because it carries a stiffer mandatory penalty than attempted murder. And, if the two defendants had been found guilty of five attempted murders they could have then been tried on the additional charge.
Judge Kean ordered both sides to submit briefs on the conspiracy charge by December 10th.
Predictably, defense attorney David Kenner said, “There’s no conspiracy here. There never was.”
While, prosecutor Tracy Kelley continued to believe that there had been a conspiracy but wasn’t sure she could even try prove the charge now, given that pesky legal technicality called the Constitution. “We just need to reevaluate what the case is, what we’ve got, before we proceed,” Kelley said.
Presumably, the final charge will be dismissed before Christmas.