FORT SMITH, ARK., APRIL 7 -- An all-white jury acquitted 13 white supremacists today of all charges after a two-month murder and sedition trial. Prosecutors had sought to prove that several of the defendants -- from such groups as The Aryan Nations and the Ku Klux Klan -- conspired to overthrow the federal government and kill two federal officials.
The jury, which returned its verdict after four days of deliberations, reported a deadlock Wednesday on two counts. U.S. District Court Judge Arnold T. Morris would not accept the impasse and sent the jurors back to work.
Asked how the trial affected the white supremacist movement, defendant Robert E. Miles replied, "Who knows? What movement? What's left of it after this?" Miles, 63, is a former grand dragon of the Klan in Michigan.
But spectator Thom Robb, national Klan chaplain, said, "The government was going to send a message to the movement. The movement sent a message to the government. The message was the same one God told Pharaoh, 'Let my people go.' "
U.S. Attorney J. Michael Fitzhugh called the verdict "a big disappointment."
Miles was accused of conspiring with Richard G. Butler, leader of the Aryan Nations in Hayden Lake, Idaho, Ray Beam Jr., former grand dragon of the Klan in Texas, and six others to overthrow the government and establish an all-white nation in the Pacific Northwest. The six are serving long prison sentences for murder, racketeering or robbery involving white-supremacist activities.
One of the six and four more defendants were accused of conspiring to assassinate U.S. District Court Judge H. Frandlin Waters and FBI agent Jack Knox, both of Arkansas. The prosecution said their plan failed when a van carrying the hitmen skidded out of commission on a slick road.
The defense contended the conspiracy theory was invented by the government's key witness, James Ellison, 47, who led The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord, a paramilitary group in northern Arkansas, before being imprisoned for 20 years for racketeering.
Fitzhugh said it was not a political trial. "We weren't after them for what they believed or what they said, but what they did," he said.
Beam celebrated the acquittal by going to a Confederate memorial opposite the court and claiming victory against what he called the "Zionist Occupation Government."
Maximum penalties would have included 20 years and a $20,000 fine for seditious conspiracy and life for conspiracy to murder.
Besides Beam, Miles and Butler, the defendants were:Richard Joseph Scutari, 40, of New York, serving 60 years for a racketeering conviction in Seattle.
Bruce Carroll Pierce, 32, of Metalline Falls, Wash., serving 100 years for a racketeering conviction in Seattle and 150 years after being convicted in Denver of violating the civil rights of radio personality Alan Berg by murdering him.
Andrew Virgil Barnhill, 31, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., serving 40 years for racketeering.
Ardie McBrearty, 60, of Gentry, Ark., serving 40 years for racketeering.
David Eden Lane, 48, of Denver, serving 40 years for racketeering and 150 years in Berg's death.
Richard Wayne Snell, 57, of Muse, Okla., sentenced to die for the murder of a pawn shop operator in 1983 and life in prison without parole for the 1984 slaying of an Arkansas state trooper.
Lambert Miller, 47, of Springfield, Mo.
David Michael McGuire, 25, of Greenville, Ill.
Ivan Ray Wade, 35, of Smithville, Ark.
William Wade, 68, of Smithville, father of Ivan Ray Wade.
Miles, Butler, Beam, Scutari, Pierce, Barnhill, McBrearty, Lane and Snell were acquitted of seditious conspiracy; Scutari and Barnhill were acquitted of transporting stolen money, and Snell, Miller, McGuire and the Wades were acquitted of conspiracy to commit murder.