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Trial begins for final defendant in Tampa homeless killings

TAMPA — The four members of a skinhead group called "Blood and Honour" wandered Tampa's streets in the fall of 1998, prosecutors say, on a predatory hunt they called "bum rolling."

That's what they named their vicious attacks on homeless men.

They beat Alfred Williams, 62, so savagely with a tire iron and their fists that police would find his teeth scattered around his body. Another victim, Richard Arseneau, 44, took an ax to the back of the head.

Testimony in the federal trial of one of those white supremacists, James Robertson, 32, opened Tuesday as prosecutors told jurors that a "misguided ideology of hate" drove Robertson and others to murder.

The other three members of "Blood and Honour" — Cory Hulse, Kenneth Hoover and Charles Marovskis — have pleaded guilty to charges related to the deaths and are cooperating with authorities. All await sentencing.

Robertson faces life in prison if convicted on charges of committing murder in a racketeering enterprise. The trial in U.S. District Court is expected to last several weeks.

"This is a case about hate, about violence and about murder," prosecutor Laurel Moore Lee said in opening statements.

Two other men were beaten in Tampa by the group, prosecutors say. One saved himself by jumping into the Hillsborough River, and the other escaped when a gun pointed at his chest misfired.

The cases went cold in the years after Arseneau's and Williams' deaths. Police found no evidence at the scenes to link anyone to the killings. But in 2003, an inmate facing 10 years on an armed bank robbery conviction offered information in hopes of leniency.

The snitch was Robertson.

He told the FBI and prosecutors about "Blood and Honour" and how he and others were preparing for an eventual race war.

Prosecutors say Robertson expressed horror at the killings and portrayed himself as a passive witness, instead pointing to Marovskis as the group's leader.

During the next four years, Robertson continued providing damaging information.

But his efforts backfired. As the FBI and prosecutors investigated, prosecutors say they determined Robertson played a "principal role" in the killings.

Robertson's attorney, Bjorn Brunvand, failed in a pretrial motion to get charges against Robertson dismissed, arguing that his client had been granted immunity. Prosecutors denied doing so. Brunvand told jurors Marovskis and Hoover lied to shift blame to Robertson and save themselves.

Brunvand acknowledged that his client isn't someone jurors will find sympathetic. "We don't expect you to like Mr. Robertson," the attorney said. Brunvand said his client was at the killings, "but (was) not an active participant."

Brunvand took care of one thing last week that, if it doesn't make jurors like Robertson, it may make him more presentable.

The judge agreed to his request that Robertson see a barber.

Reach William R. Levesque at levesque@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3432.

Trial begins for final defendant in Tampa homeless killings 10/04/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 5, 2011 12:01am]
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