SKINHEAD FOUND GUILTY OF MURDER; KILLING IN ANTELOPE VALLEY WAS RACIALLY MOTIVATED, JURY FINDS.
A Lancaster skinhead was found guilty Thursday of first-degree murder in the 1995 racially motivated beating death of an African-American transient.
Randall Rojas, 24, who was convicted two years ago in another Antelope Valley hate crime, faces life in prison without the possibility of parole for the slaying of Milton Walker Jr., who the jurors declared had been killed because of his race.
``Personally, as an American, I would never want such racist beliefs to be a basis for such a crime,'' juror Fred Totten of Los Angeles said outside court. ``The fact that this happened when they were so young, teen-agers, I can't believe with the progress we've had in the past 20 years that this kind of crime could still happen.''
The juror said there was overwhelming evidence pointing to hate of African-American people as the motive.
``There was an accumulation of evidence piled on top of another,'' Totten said.
Walker was fatally beaten with a board in a vacant lot behind a McDonald's restaurant in the 800 block of West Avenue I two days after Thanksgiving 1995. Walker's battered body was found by an employee of a neighboring business shortly after 9 p.m.
Rojas, Ritch Bryant, 20, and Jessica Colwell, 20, are charged with murdering Walker, who prosecutors say was killed to earn his killers lightning bolt tattoos, considered a badge of honor among white supremacists.
Two other separate juries continued to deliberate Thursday on the cases against Bryant and Colwell.
A fourth defendant, Michael Thornton, testified at a July 1998 preliminary hearing that he, Bryant and Rojas decided to go to McDonald's and ran into a white woman who said Walker had kicked her in the back. Thornton's videotaped testimony was played for the jurors.
Thornton testified that the three approached Walker, and Thornton punched the victim after asking whether he kicked a white woman, officials said.
Rojas then came up from behind and hit Walker in the face with a board, beating the victim until Thornton pulled him off and ordered him to stop, Thornton testified.
After the three left, Thornton testified that Bryant said he wanted to ``earn bolts'' - tattoos that for members of the Nazi Low Riders prison gang indicates the wearer has killed a minority - and returned to the scene with Colwell less than an hour later.
Thornton testified that Bryant told him the next day that he earned his bolts. Bryant hit the victim with a two-by-four and Colwell poked Walker in the eye with a pole, prosecutors said.
Bryant and Rojas already have been sentenced to prison for hate crimes.
In March 1997, Rojas was sentenced to two years in prison after he admitted beating a Latino outside a 7-Eleven in September 1995.
Bryant was sentenced to eight years in prison for a December 1995 attack on an African-American student at Antelope Valley High School. He pleaded guilty to assault and admitted committing a hate crime in the beating and stabbing of the African-American student with a screwdriver as he walked across the Antelope Valley High baseball field between classes.
Rojas, a stocky young man with slicked-back hair, watched the clerk closely as she read the four guilty verdicts - murder, committing a hate crime, acting in concert with other attackers and personally using a deadly weapon.
Dressed in a pin-striped oxford shirt and army green pants, his hands folded on the table in front of him, Rojas appeared to sink lower in his chair with each guilty verdict.
Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito, who presided over the trial, thanked the somber jurors for completing their ``unpleasant task.''
``I'm sorry you had to be the people to shoulder this burden,'' Ito said. ``I apologize for having to subject you to this type of case and understand that this experience will last with you for the rest of your life.''
Outside court, the jury foreman, who asked to remain anonymous, said the panel believed Rojas had delivered the killing blow to Walker's head during the first of two attacks despite uncertainty about when the victim died.
Some testimony suggested that Walker was still alive later that evening, when Bryant and Colwell allegedly returned to the lot and beat him in the head with a metal pipe and the same wooden board Rojas used.
The jury foreman said the panel's only difficulty was deciding whether it should be first- or second-degree murder, but the hate-crime finding was easy.
``He was a self-described member of the Nazi Low Riders,'' the foreman said. ``The testimony that he wanted to earn those lightning bolts was compelling. We also heard that there were racial epithets used. This crime was appalling and unacceptable.''
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Nov 5, 1999|
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