The burly, heavily tattooed founder of a neo-Nazi skinhead crew, who faced up to 50 years in prison for a brutal assault last summer, was acquitted Wednesday by a jury in Buffalo County, Nebraska.
The jury, according to the Kearney Hub, deliberated for seven hours over two days before finding Johnathan M. Schmidt, 29, not guilty of felony first-degree assault in a confrontation on the night of July 21 that left a man battered and bleeding in the street, his face and teeth fractured, his nose broken.
Schmidt, who is covered with tattoos from head to toe, including numerous markings on his face and a large swastika on his torso, was picked out of a photo lineup shortly after the assault.
Yet, from the beginning, Schmidt, who is known as “Monster,” proclaimed his innocence and insisted he was a victim of mistaken identity.
Six months before, Schmidt founded Die Auserwahlten, also known as Crew 41, a small band of neo-Nazi skinheads scattered across the country and little known until a particularly violent weekend last July.
The bloody weekend began on Saturday night, July 21, in Kearney, Neb., a small college town, where Schmidt was charged with pulling a man out of a van and brutally beating and kicking him in the head. The next morning, 1,200 miles away in South Carolina, a middle-age couple was found shot and stabbed to death in their home.
Two days later, Crew 41’s entire South Carolina chapter, apparently consisting of just two people – Jeremy Moody, 30, and his wife, Christine, 36 – were arrested and charged with the double murder.
The Moodys practically bragged to investigators about killing the couple, Union County, S.C., Sheriff David Taylor said.
The sheriff said Moody readily admitted to the killing. His wife, however, was more tight-lipped when first arrested. But she grew jealous of the media attention her husband was receiving. She too began to boast. She told authorities that she cut the woman’s throat. “She wants to get the glory,” Sheriff Taylor told the Southern Poverty Law Center. “She’s cold as hell.”
Schmidt chose a different legal strategy in his case: denial.
At his trial, Schmidt took the stand and testified for 45 minutes, according to the Kearney Hub. He said he had been provoked when he punched a man in the face but that he did not kick or stomp on the man’s head.
Schmidt testified that he saw someone else kick the man “in the face.”
Schmidt told the court, according to the Hub, that he had spent much of July 21 in a parking lot in Kearney during the town’s popular party and rolling auto show called Cruite Nite. He said a van, with its sliding doors open, drove by, its occupants yelling obscenities at one of his friends.
He said the van stopped nearby, and Schmidt, who was shirtless, and two other men ran over to confront the occupants. “My anger got the best of me,” the Hub quoted Schmidt as testifying.
Schmidt said he punched a man as he got out of the van, but he denied pulling anyone out of the vehicle and stomping on him. Schmidt said it was a man named Chris Chambers who did the stomping.
But Chambers testified on Tuesday, according to the Hub, that Schmidt had threatened him repeatedly, trying to get him to take the blame for the assault.
The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for 30 minutes Tuesday evening before reconvening Wednesday morning. When the verdict was announced, Schmidt showed little reaction, the Hub reported, adding that his wife wiped away tears and his friends celebrated with high-fives.
Schmidt’s public defender, John Marsh, told the Hub that he wasn’t surprised by the verdict because the prosecution had a hard time proving who inflicted the injuries on the victim, who had his jaw wired shut for two weeks and missed six weeks of work.
The president of Crew 41, Brandon Hoffpauir, declined comment on the not-guilty verdict.
Schmidt has tattooed runes, or medieval Germanic letters, on his left eyebrow that spell out “Hate.”
He might want to get a new set of runes: lucky.