Two former prison guards in Florida who were members of the Ku Klux Klan have been convicted of plotting to kill a black inmate in retaliation for a scuffle with another guard who also belonged to the hate group.
A jury in Columbia County found David Elliot Moran and Charles Thomas Newcomb guilty of conspiracy to commit first degree murder after they were caught discussing their plans with an FBI informant, the state attorney general announced Tuesday.
At the time of their arrest in 2015, Moran was an officer at the Florida Department of Corrections Reception and Medical Center in Lake Butler. Newcomb had worked there previously.
The third guard, Thomas Jordan Driver, also worked at the facility, which processes new male inmates into the prison system and provides medical care for inmates throughout the state. He pleaded guilty in March to one count of conspiracy to commit first degree murder and was sentenced to four years in prison.
All three men were members of a well-known Klan affiliate called the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, prosecutors said.
"These Klansmen plotted to murder a black inmate after he was released from prison, but swift action and clever investigative tactics on behalf of investigators foiled their plot and may have saved a life," Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a statement Tuesday. "We will continue to work daily to ensure the KKK or any other hate-filled organization is unable to inflict violence on the citizens of our great state."
Attorneys for the defendants didn't immediately respond to messages seeking comment. Newcomb and Moran pleaded not guilty to the charges in May 2015, according to News4Jax.
A sentencing date has not been scheduled. The defendants face up to 30 years in prison.
The convictions came as President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville over the weekend that left a counterprotester dead and dozens of other people injured. Trump is facing widespread criticism that he waited too long to condemn the hate groups involved and inflamed racial tensions by claiming that "both sides" were to blame for the violence.
Prosecutors said the Florida prison guards' plot to kill the black inmate was hatched at a Ku Klux Klan meeting in the Jacksonville area in late 2014. Newcomb, Moran and Driver told an FBI informant who had infiltrated the group that Driver had gotten into a "physical altercation" with the inmate, according to a partially redacted affidavit released to reporters at the time of their arrests.
Driver said the inmate had bitten him during the struggle, and he was worried about contracting a disease. The three men told the informant they wanted to see the inmate "six feet under" once he was released, according to the affidavit.
After the inmate was released, Newcomb and Moran divulged the details of the murder plot in a conversation with the informant that was secretly recorded. The affidavit contains a partial transcript of the meeting, where they discuss abducting the man and injecting him with insulin to make his death look accidental:
"Newcomb: I set that fishing pole like he's been fishing, and give him a couple shots, and we sit there and wait on him, we can kind of lay him like he just kind of tippled over into the water. And he can breathe in just a little bit of that water.
"Moran: What do you - what do you mean, you talk about taking him fishing or watching him?
"Newcomb: I'm talking about jerking his a- up, putting him in the car and taking him down there.
"Moran: Yeah, but does he fish?
"Newcomb: It don't matter."
Newcomb, who identified himself as the "Exalted Cyclops" of the Klan chapter, told Moran and the informant that they could shoot the former inmate if the plan went awry, according to the transcript. "If we have to do pow-pow, we will," the affidavit quotes him as saying.
In early 2015, the FBI informant told the men he could contact a "professional" to kill the former inmate for them. "Sounds good," Driver told him, according to the affidavit. At that point, FBI agents notified the intended victim about the looming attempt on his life and put him in protective custody.
Prosecutors said the FBI nabbed Newcomb, Moran and Driver by staging a homicide scene that made it look like the former inmate had been savagely murdered.
When the FBI informant showed the men a cellphone photo of the scene, they smiled, the affidavit says, and Driver shook the informant's hand "in gratitude."