There was something comical about defense attorney Michael Molfetta’s opening performance today in the trial of legendary Costa Mesa serial killer/white supremacist Billy Joe Johnson. Molfetta, a former prosecutor with legendary oratory skills, represents Johnson–a vicious, lisping specimen for California crime annals. If convicted, the Public Enemy Number One Death Squad (PEN1) and former Nazi Low Rider (NLR) killer faces a one-way trip to San Quentin State Prison’s inhospitable death row.
Sure, Molfetta did something I can’t recall seeing a defense lawyer do in court. He acknowledged that his client “did everything” veteran homicide prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh accuses him of doing. That means–without an iota of sensationalism on my part–that Johnson is a Nazi-loving monster without a pang of conscience or–so much for protecting the white race from decline–the ability to form a proper sentence.
“Everything [Baytieh] said [in his opening statement] is true,” said Molfetta. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it.”
For Molfetta, it wasn’t so much sugarcoating as accepting a terrible set of facts and attempting to score points for honesty with jurors. Johnson has already admitted on numerous occasions that he’s a killer. Indeed, he has described himself as proud of his crimes. In case anyone could forget his beliefs, he has even charmed a previous courtroom with a salute to Hitler.
So here’s what started to make me chuckle to myself today in Superior Court Judge Frank F. Fasel’s (Triple F) ninth-floor Santa Ana courtroom: Molfetta’s opening lines.
“Take a look at him,” Molfetta said to the button down, middle-class-loaded jury as he pointed at Johnson. “Who is he? What makes him tick?”
Johnson sat there, staring back at the panel and sucking his teeth. His
skin is jailhouse-white and accentuated, unfavorably, by The Exorcist-vomit-green shirt he’s wearing. His trademark Mohawk has reached an
impressive 3-inch height, causing it to bend slightly to the right.
His vision is weak, so he squints to see. Periodically, his eyes widen
and a smile emerges–and then disappears without any seeming correlation
to what’s happening in the trial. Johnson clearly suffers from ADD, a
plight evidenced by him constantly rubbing his hands together,
scratching wax out of his ears, frowning, massaging his forehead with
both hands and, my favorite, pulling his lower lip away from his face.
If the blood Johnson has poured from ambush killings magically
re-appeared, he would beam a dark burgundy from head to toe.
I doubt if any of the jurors liked what they saw or felt any sympathy.
But what brought a smile to my face was Molfetta’s shameless attempt at invoking guilt.
“[Johnson’s] a product of what we all allow [longtime inmates to endure
in prison],” Molfetta–a linebacker of a man–said in a gentle voice. “Don’t be surprised when he acts up in public.”
That’s right. According to the defense, the ultimate villain in Johnson’s lifelong crime spree is you and I.
In case any juror missed the first round, Molfetta drove his point home a second time. Johnson’s character “reflects poorly on all of us,” he said.
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.