By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Sporting a fluffy Mohawk-mullet, Nazi SS lightning bolts over his Adam's apple and an orange jail jumpsuit, infamous Southern California criminal Billy Joe Johnson emerges in public on June 6. He lands not on the blue-collar streets of Costa Mesa, which helped groom him into a monster, but in a Santa Ana courtroom. The setting is familiar to this robber, burglar, drug addict, assault enthusiast, killer, inmate and—oh, yes—father, handyman, and "white power" T-shirt and accessories designer.
Like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, Johnson requires special security precautions. A noticeably tense, multi-ethnic team of sheriff's deputies escorts him into the courtroom. Long gone are his trademark red suspenders, which were traded in for the chains encircling his gruesomely scarred, heavily inked body. He shuffles through the room. The guards watch this prisoner as if he is an explosive.
This time, Johnson is not a defendant, but a key witness. Michael Allan Lamb and Jacob Anthony Rump, two fellow Public Enemy Number One (PENI or PEN1) Death Squad hoodlums, are charged with the 2002 execution of Scott Miller of Huntington Beach. PENI's co-founder, Miller had made the mistake of talking to a Fox News investigative reporter in Los Angeles. Rump and Lamb are also accused of attempting to murder an undercover Anaheim cop. They hope their star defense witness can provide an airtight alibi for them in the killing of Miller. And sure enough, Johnson will eventually testify, "I want them [the jury] to know they [Lamb and Rump] was not guilty."
Placed in the witness chair, he slowly stretches his neck and glances—clearly unimpressed—at the enlarged personal photography that decorates Superior Court Judge William Froeberg's courtroom walls. He studies the large crowd (many of whom are plainclothes cops), and then he winks and smiles quickly at Lamb.
When a solemn jury enters, Johnson goes bug-eyed. During his days in freedom, he liked to hang out in strip clubs. He stares at two blond female jurors as they walk by to take their seats. His tongue darts out of his mouth. He puckers, shakes his head and silently says the word "Wow!"
"I really don't pay attention to guys," Johnson later says with a lisp—due, presumably, to missing front teeth.
Though he is never asked about his sexual preference, the man who has spent half of his life locked in California prisons will declare his heterosexuality four times during his half-day appearance, including this doozy: "It's nobody's business who I am slut-butting."
Froeberg: "What does that mean?"
Johnson: "Slut-butting, what girls I'm running around with. Girls. Plural. Lots of girls."
"Okay," says Froeberg. It's his turn to be unimpressed.
Giving Johnson a forum to establish his masculinity wasn't the reason Rump, 30, and Lamb, 32, summoned their PENI pal from prison. Lamb, a violent career thug and dope dealer who branded his forehead with two PENI Death Squad tattoos and his throat with a swastika, faces the death penalty. Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas says his senior staff conducted an extensive review of Lamb's criminal conduct as an adult. They concluded that the most severe punishment is warranted and that Lamb is "beyond hope for rehabilitation." Rump—Lamb's less-than-brilliant dope-fiend sidekick—faces life in prison.
Intercepted jail mail shows that the two defendants have pet names for each other. Rump calls Lamb his "left butt cheek." Lamb calls Rump his "right butt cheek." You can't make this stuff up. They are, in their own minds, "a precision-tuned machine."
But the machine has a screw loose, and it's a sign of desperation that they've pinned their hopes on the likes of Johnson, who remains proud he used a rusty steel claw hammer to ambush and kill Cory Lamon, 26, in Huntington Beach in 2004. Johnson, a.k.a. BJ Psycho, had wanted to retrieve $20,000 stolen from a local stripper/escort named Wild Kitten. Lamon was the stripper's roommate who, it turns out, knew the identity of the thief. Sadly for Lamon, Johnson didn't realize that he should learn the identity before he used the hammer on his victim's skull. Days later, police arrested Johnson and a large contingent of his youthful followers before they could drive to the Inland Empire and burn Lamon's battered corpse.
Johnson, an ex-Nazi Low Rider now serving a 45-years-to-life sentence for murdering Lamon, obviously relishes attention. Photos show a massive tattoo across his chest reads, "CMTI," which he says stands for "Costa Mesa's True Individual." A Nazi war-eagle tattoo covers his belly button region. "I am proud to be white," he says about the swastika, demon and Iron Cross tattoos covering his stocky body. In a previous court appearance, he taunted the audience with a Heil Hitler salute. Asked if he calls courtrooms "the house of Jews," he replies without hesitation, "Certainly, certainly."
In the annals of Orange County gang prosecutions, it's unlikely anyone has a more impressive conviction record than veteran Deputy District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh. In recent years, he's been a one-man wrecking crew to many of Little Saigon's Vietnamese criminal gangs. Street cops who aren't always impressed by prosecutors admire Baytieh. Dozens of violent gangsters will never get another chance to harm innocent people thanks to him.