A jury Monday ordered white supremacist Tom Metzger to pay $5-million to the family of a black man beaten to death by "skinheads" who were allegedly incited to violence by Metzger and his organization, the White Aryan Resistance. The award was part of a total $12.5-million awarded to the family, the maximum sought in the lawsuit brought by a team led by civil rights lawyer Morris Dees.
Metzger's son John was ordered to pay $1-million; his organization, known as WAR, was assessed $3-million; two skinheads who pleaded guilty in the slaying must pay $500,000 each. The five defendants would split the responsibility for the remaining $2.5-million awarded by the jury.
Dees and his team predicted that if they were victorious in the civil suit, Metzger's growing racist network, which has its headquarters in Fallbrook, Calif., would be broken.
The jury deliberated about five hours before reaching the verdict on an 11-1 vote.
After the verdict was announced, Dees said, "This jury has spoken loud and clear that in this country the First Amendment guarantees the right to hate people and say whatever you want. But it does not give you the right to hurt people."
The verdict "will clean (Metzger's) clock," he said. "Whatever assets he's got, it won't be enough to satisfy this judgment, and we are going to get it all. This first thing we're going to do is send a moving van to his house so we can take it over."
Dees, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center, sought to prove that the Metzgers sent agents to Portland to organize a group of East Side White Pride skinheads.
Three members of that gang have been convicted in the November 1988 slaying of Mulugeta Seraw, a 27-year-old Ethiopian immigrant living in Portland. The Metzgers were never criminally charged.
Dees fashioned the lawsuit after his battle with the Alabama arm of the Ku Klux Klan, in which he won a $7-million jury award in 1987 after a black youth was lynched in Mobile.
Tom Metzger, 52, has emerged in recent years as a national white power leader through his success recruiting disaffected white youths who are active as skinheads in about 100 U.S. cities. John Metzger, 22, is WAR's national director for its skinhead faction.
Both father and son represented themselves at the trial. In his closing, Tom Metzger warned the jury not to make him a "martyr."
Calling the two-week trial a "Salem witch hunt," Metzger said a verdict against him would merely further his cause by enhancing his reputation among advocates of a whites-only America.
Key testimony for the plaintiffs came from Dave Mazzella, former vice president of the skinheads' Aryan Youth Movement and a Metzger devotee from Southern California. He told the jury that he was specifically dispatched by the Metzgers to Portland to incite skinheads here to violence, including those later convicted in the Seraw death.
He testified that he called the Metzgers as soon as he arrived in Portland and called them again the day after the murder.
Tom Metzger said he never gave Mazzella specific orders to teach skinheads to kill anyone.
The trial follows two setbacks last week for white-power advocates. Two skinheads were found guilty in Nevada of murder and three white supremacists were convicted in Idaho for plotting to bomb a Seattle disco frequented by homosexuals.