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Contents of a cell phone found two years ago by federal investigators may have provided key information to the unraveling of a racially motivated, brutal double murder that took place 14 years ago in the Nevada desert.
Melissa Hack, 37, her brother, Ross Hack, 40, and Leland Jones, 31, are charged with first-degree murder and firearms offenses in a federal indictment unsealed yesterday in Las Vegas. All have previous ties with neo-Nazi skinhead groups, authorities say.
The federal charges stem from the 1998 shooting deaths of Lin “Spit” Newborn, 24, and Daniel Shersty, 20. Both Newborn, a black tattoo artist and musician, and Shersty, who was white and in the U.S. Air Force, were members of an anti-racist movement known as the Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP). Violence between neo-Nazi skins and so-called SHARPs has been endemic for decades.
Melissa Hack was the girlfriend of John “Polar Bear” Butler, who was the leader of the Independent Nazi Skins, authorities say. Now 40, Butler was convicted of the double murders in Nevada state court in 2001 and has been serving two life-without-parole sentences since his death penalty sentence was overturned.
Investigators say they suspected all along that others besides Butler were involved in the murders and that Melissa Hack may have lured Newborn and Shersty to the remote desert location on federal land where they were found shot to death on July 4, 1998. Friends of Newborn and Shersty have long contended that neo-Nazis were responsible for their deaths and accused Hack of acting as a kind of sexual bait.
Both Hack and her brother could face the death penalty if convicted.
In a court appearance yesterday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Bliss described the killings as “very gruesome” and said a shotgun and two handguns were involved, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in today’s editions.
A break in the cold case came after it eventually was assigned to an FBI violent crimes task force whose members included homicide detective Fred Merrick of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
On June 16, 2010, court documents disclose, Merrick and FBI Agent Kevin Sheehan waited for Melissa Hack as she reported to the Nevada State Parole and Probation Office in Las Vegas for a meeting with her parole officer on unrelated narcotics charges. The two investigators had a search warrant to collect fingerprint and DNA evidence from Melissa Hack in connection with the 1998 double murders, the court documents say.
When she was asked to sign an advice of rights form, Melissa Hack told the investigators, “I don’t sign anything without my attorney reading it.” As a follow-up, the investigators asked for her cell phone so she could call her attorney.
Hack told the investigators she had no personal belongings with her and had left her cell phone at work. She told her parole officer the same thing. She said she had been given a ride to the probation office by a male co-worker who was in the waiting room.
When the co-worker was contacted by other investigators and told Hack would be delayed, he told them she had left personal items on his car console, which he agreed to turn over to them. There, investigators “discovered a cellular telephone containing photographs of Hack and numerous additional individuals she visibly appeared to associate with,” according to the 2-year-old court document obtained by Hatewatch. “Some of the individuals bore tattoos of signs and symbols that could be relevant to the 1998 murder investigation.”
The investigators seized the cell phone, which contained photos that investigators now believe are relevant to the double murder. And on July 28, 2010, Melissa Hack was charged with lying to investigators about the phone. That charge against her is still pending and hasn’t gone to trial, court records show.
Authorities aren’t saying exactly what role those cell phone photographs played in their ultimate decision to charge the trio with the double murders.
Melissa Hack’s brother, Ross Hack, 40, is serving federal prison time on an unrelated federal passport fraud conviction, and is being returned to Las Vegas for arraignment on the murder indictment. Jones, who has no previous criminal record, was ordered held without bond.