US Attorney mulling death penalty for Aryan Brotherhood prisoners

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Sacramento’s top federal prosecutor is considering asking Attorney General Merrick Garland for authorization to seek the death penalty against four Aryan Brotherhood prisoners linked by prosecutors to several murders.

US Attorney Phillip Talbert’s ongoing contemplation was recently revealed in several letters sent to lawyers for Pat Brady, William Sylvester, Brant Daniel, and Jason Corbett, four of 16 defendants named in a sprawling RICO case associated with the Aryan Brotherhood – a neo-Nazi prison gang originally founded in San Quentin.

“The United States believes your client could be charged with an offense subject to the death penalty, specifically a violation of Title 18 United States Code Section 1959(a)(1), murder in aid of racketeering,” Talbert, through several assistants, wrote in the letters. “This letter is to inform you that the United States Attorney is contemplating requesting authorization to seek the death penalty against your client.”

The four men were charged in May of 2019, alongside 12 others, in a wide-ranging conspiracy involving several alleged prison murders, drug trafficking, and contraband smuggling that spanned from 2011 to 2016.

According to an exhaustive timeline outlined in hundreds of court documents, Sylvester and another man, Ronald Yandell, allegedly used a cell phone, smuggled into Folsom Prison by a lawyer, to traffic meth and heroin from their shared cell.

“They used contraband cell phones to extend the reach of their drug trafficking activity from that cell to the streets of Sacramento and other cities throughout California,” a Bay Area DEA agent wrote in an affidavit.

Yandell, who could also face the death penalty, didn’t receive a letter from Talbert because his legal representation was in limbo at the time.

Prosecutors say Yandell and Sylvester coordinated with another man incarcerated at Calipatria State Prison, Travis Burhop, to receive their methamphetamine and heroin. Officials say Burhop controlled a drug trafficking ring that sold meth and heroin in states like South Dakota and Missouri.

Nickolas Perez, an alleged courier for Burhop, was pulled over in Eureka, Missouri in 2016 while driving with his girlfriend. A K9 returned positive alerts for controlled substances in two areas of the car and Perez cooperated with officers, leading them to a safe in his room at a Motel 6 where one pound of methamphetamine was stashed.

Later, prosecutors say, a lawyer and a man posing as a paralegal smuggled meth, cell phones, and tobacco to William Sylvester during a Folsom Prison visitation session. Sylvester allegedly later told the men to blame the smuggling on the brotherhood to get out of trouble.

Other items concealed in food packages were allegedly delivered to Aryan Brotherhood prisoners at Folsom Prison and High Desert State Prison by 37-year-old Justin Petty.

US District Court filings

The men are also accused of using smuggled cell phones to orchestrate murder plots, some which were carried out and others that were caught and disrupted by officials before they could happen.

Prosecutors say Sylvester first joined the brotherhood in 2011 by stabbing a member of a rival skinhead gang to death on the yard at Folsom Prison. The man was allegedly affiliated with the United Society of Aryan Skinheads, a group that sought to band together with smaller white supremacist gangs to eventually outnumber the Aryan Brotherhood.

Wiretapped calls referenced in court documents show the brotherhood continued to wage their war against the USAS as late as 2016. Prosecutors say Yandell told Brant Daniel to target Skinhead Wolf Pack affiliates and force them to denounce the gang. The Wolf Pack, along with the Golden State Skins and the American Front, were allied with USAS.

In 2015, Yogi Pinell, a member of the Black Guerilla Family, was stabbed to death at Folsom Prison’s B Yard after ridiculing Aryan Brotherhood members with racist comments. Pinell was stabbed over 20 times by Jayson “Beaver” Weaver, and a racially charged riot ensued on the yard as the attack went on. Prosecutors say Yandell was taped telling Pat Brady a year later that the slaying was ordered by the brotherhood.

“They had Beaver kill that n—-r Yogi,” he allegedly said. Yandell went on to explain that Beaver had “earned his rock” – entry to the gang – because he “smoked that motherfucker.”

In August of 2016, documents say, Yandell made a tapped call to Jason Corbett at High Desert prison in Susanville, promising him entry to the brotherhood if he killed an associate he had a dispute with, Paul Diaz. After Corbett agreed, Yandell cosigned him for membership.

“Just wanted u to know I just got done talking to [Danny Troxell],” he wrote in a text message. “Told him I put u up so it’s official. I know you’ll make the rock shine.”

Corbett replied, saying the cosign was the “best news I ever got” and expressing his “love and respects” for Yandell.

“My heart is swelled up right now,” Corbett wrote. “Thank you brother, yes I will make it shine!” Prosecutors say he later ordered the murder of Doug Maynard, which was carried out by a lower-level associate, over drug debt.

Daniel allegedly later killed a man to increase his standing in the gang. In 2018, Brady and Corbett stabbed Donald Pequeen to death with a homemade knife, adorned with SS bolts, for allegedly defying the brotherhood.

Several defendants in the case have made allegations of unfair treatment and wrongdoing from staff at both CSP Sacramento and the Sacramento County Main Jail. Most recently, lawyers for Brant Daniel said in court filings that guards can overhear confidential phone calls and visits between them and their client.

“Could you officers hear my legal call w/ my attorneys?” Daniel asked a correctional officer in a written note provided by his legal team.

“Yes! Every Tues!” the officer replied.

Yandell is currently suing outgoing sheriff and congressional candidate Scott Jones, as well as a jail chaplain, for allegedly restricting his religious diet. A judge ruled in October that his lawsuit can move forward.

If prosecutors seek the death penalty and the men are convicted, they’re unlikely to be executed in the next four years. The Department of Justice in July paused federal executions as officials weigh several protocols including the usage of pentobarbital, a lethal injection drug, following the Trump administration’s controversial, last-minute flurry of executions before he left office.

According to data compiled by Death Row Watcher and shared with The Update, the RICO case would be at least the third time federal prosecutors sought the death penalty, if authorized by Garland, since Biden was elected. He has previously promised that no federal prisoners would be executed under his watch and said he would take steps to eliminate federal capital punishment for good.

Ethan Biando
Ethan Biando is a freelance journalist from Sacramento. His writing focuses on crime, courts, and policing. Find him on Twitter @ethanb822

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