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Headline: HELLS ANGELS TRIAL: Prosecution challenged
Wednesday - 10/04/2006
Referrer: Las Vegas Review-Journal

Defense: Witness reports missing


Despite questioning witnesses for more than a year, prosecutors trying the Hells Angels' case produced for the defense only about three pages of information from each interview.

Defense attorneys representing the first 11 Hells Angels to stand trial on attempted murder and racketeering charges from the 2002 Laughlin River Run brawl told U.S. District Judge James Mahan prosecutors are withholding reports on their conversations with witnesses.

For example, prosecutors acknowledged they "debriefed" witnesses Patrick Matter and James Richey before Tuesday's proceedings, according to a motion filed by Pete Christiansen.

"Presumably notes would have been taken and facts verified," Christiansen wrote in his motion. "Thus, the defense is entitled to these materials."

Thorough reports are crucial to the defense's ability to cross-examine witnesses, the bikers' attorneys argued.

Mahan took no action Tuesday but said "it seems odd" that there are not more extensive reports from the witnesses interviews with federal agents.

In February, however, Mahan declared a mistrial in a federal trial against three businessmen charged with multimillion-dollar fraud after he learned prosecutors didn't turn over discovery materials.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Johnson attempted to launch his case that the Hells Angels motorcycle club is a highly organized gang that conspires to commit crimes such as murder and drug distribution. He alleges Hells Angels members descended on Laughlin during the 2002 River Run to attack and kill members of a rival motorcycle group, the Mongols.

Within minutes of calling Matter to the stand, however, Johnson's approach ran afoul of the judge.

Matter, a former Hells Angel who started the Minnesota chapter more than 20 years ago, was indicted in 2002 on charges of distributing up to 5 kilograms, or about 11 pounds, of methamphetamine. After he was sentenced to 17 1/2 years in prison, he agreed to become a government witness in exchange for a 10-year prison term.

Matter told jurors that nearly all members of the Minnesota charter purchased and sold methamphetamine. Matter also said he had visited more than 20 Hells Angels clubhouses across the country and drugs were available in all but one.

Attorney David Chesnoff questioned the relevancy of Matter's testimony, since neither Matter nor Johnson addressed events in Laughlin on April 27, 2002.

Chesnoff and the other defense lawyers earlier had filed a motion to try to block Matter and Richey from testifying. The two men were not in Laughlin during the 2002 River Run, when the brawl that included gunfire erupted between Hells Angels and Mongols in Harrah's. Mahan decided to allow the testimony.

After Matter testified about rampant drug use inside the Minnesota Hells Angels clubhouse, Chesnoff said in court, "No one on trial here had anything to do with that."

Mahan agreed. With jurors still present in the courtroom, he pointed out that some Catholic priests are proven pedophiles.

"Does that mean the Catholic church was engaged in child pornography? No," Mahan said, noting that members of Hells Angels chapters could behave differently and the motorcycle club should not be judged as a whole.

Mahan also cut short Johnson's questioning about a clash between the Minnesota chapter of the Hells Angels and their enemy, the Outlaws.

"We're dealing with a specific situation in Laughlin," Mahan told Johnson.

Johnson said the clash between the Hells Angels and Outlaws is an example of violent acts initiated by members of the Hells Angels. The Laughlin melee, which resulted in the deaths of two Hells Angels and a Mongol, is another example of that pattern, Johnson said.

"If that's your argument, you have to have more than that," Mahan said after jurors were excused. "It's like, 'Let's find these guys guilty because this chapter went out and beat up a bunch of Outlaws.' "

Matter is to resume testifying today.

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