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
Michael Allan Lamb has done everything imaginable to cast himself as a demon. He joined Public Enemy Number One Death Squad (PENI), sold dope, stole property and stabbed someone in the back of the neck. Two weeks ago, an Orange County jury convicted him and accomplice Jacob Anthony Rump for an ambush killing and the attempted murder of a cop. The 32-year-old who calls himself the "Hollywood Hit Man" has been so determined to evoke fear that he tattooed his forehead, face, throat and body with Nazi and white-supremacist symbols.
But now that Lamb faces the death penalty, the Cerritos boy who grew up in Dana Point wants a jury to appreciate his softer side and show him mercy.
"Michael Lamb is a convicted murderer, but he is not an evil monster," defense lawyer Kristen Erickson told the jury on July 12. "You're going to see that he was a good seed—not an evil seed. Unfortunately, he grew up in bad soil."
It's the penalty phase of the case, and by the end of July, jurors will decide if Lamb receives life in prison without the possibility of parole or a one-way bus ride to San Quentin State Prison's legendary death row. Both the defense and the prosecution say Lamb's character will be key to the punishment.
"As a representative of the people of this great state, I say this defendant deserves the ultimate penalty," argued Deputy District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh, who repeatedly referred to Lamb as "a coward" and "a killer."
Wearing an olive-green button-down shirt, gray slacks and silver handcuffs, Lamb offered few reactions during Baytieh's opening remarks. He bobbed his head and made a few hushed quips to his other taxpayer-supplied defense lawyer, Marlin Stapleton, who handled the trial. Throughout the process, Lamb has remained exceptionally cool. Twenty feet away, his mother, Cathy, sat alone and dejected at the back of the courtroom. It must have been painful to hear her son's lawyers toss part of the blame her way. Erickson told jurors that Lamb's parents were "toxic": Mom was a severe alcoholic and neighborhood embarrassment, and dad Steve was a "very cold, hard person" who smuggled drugs after he returned from the Vietnam War as a heroin addict. The impact on young Lamb, the oldest of three boys, was "devastating," according to Erickson.
"He had to pat his mother down to check for hidden alcohol bottles," said Erickson. "She begged him to steal alcohol for her, and when she ran out of it, she drank hairspray.
"Michael was a sweet, well-liked kid who loved surfing and was great at playing baseball," said Erickson. "He had a sense of humor, and he tried to make other people feel more comfortable in ugly situations."
Lamb was traumatized early, according to Erickson. At 4 years old, the family's German shepherd, Benson, bit him on the eyebrow. His father, who loved the dog, bitterly told his son, "Because of you, I had to kill Benson." Lamb cried.
The lawyer also said that Lamb was forced to assume parenting chores for his two younger brothers, Danny and Matt. The messy home life took its toll, and he "slid downhill to find his own escape" in drugs and questionable characters.
"Eventually, he found unconditional acceptance from people we don't respect," said Erickson, referring to PENI gangsters. "Yes, he made some bad choices from a dysfunctional background, neglect, drugs and the institutionalization he experienced as a young man. He used pot to cope. He's truly the person who lives next door to you. He is not evil. This is a kid who went the wrong way and never got out."
Lamb's aunt, a nurse, testified on July 17 that she loves her nephew and trusted him enough to allow him to baby-sit her children. "He's very good to them," she said.
Baytieh attempted to pierce the sympathy play by showing pictures of potentially lethal metal shanks Lamb has kept while in custody. Chino prison guards testified that eight years ago, Lamb stabbed another inmate in the back of the neck and calmly walked away. An OC Jail deputy also found a six-inch shank in Lamb's cell two years ago. "He was smirking and smiling when we found it," the deputy testified. "Mr. Lamb said, 'Shank you later' to me, instead of 'See you later.'"
"This coward's character is the issue," said Baytieh. "At the end of this process, I'm going to ask you to decide for the death penalty."
Erickson called herself a "proud and fully with my heart" advocate for the white supremacist who has 737 tattooed above one eye and PDS above the other; 737 is the phone-pad sequence for PDS or PENI Death Squad. A swastika decorates his throat.
In recent years, police detectives say the gang has replaced the Nazi Low Riders in criminal street activity—particularly identity theft and narcotic rings. Its members—many of whom live in Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Anaheim, Tustin and Long Beach—are fond of abusing methamphetamine and heroin, which might explain why police often catch them red-handed. Indeed, a doped-up Lamb forgot to lose the gun he used to kill 38-year-old Scott Miller in Anaheim in 2002. When police found Lamb in a stolen car three days after the shooting, he was still carrying the murder weapon.