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November 26, 2022

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Plea deal reveals new details in 1998 slayings of anti-racism activists

Woman implicates her brother as ringleader in the double-murder

John Butler Trial

Lori Cain / Sun File Photo

John Butler talks to a member of the court audience during a break in his penalty hearing at the Clark County Courthouse Tuesday, January 2, 2001. Butler was convicted last week of murdering Daniel Shersty, 20, and Lin Newborn, 25, on July 4, 1998.

John Butler Trial

John Edward Butler appears in Justice Court Wednesday, December 30, 1998. Butler was accused of killing Lin Newborn and Daniel Shersty in July 1998. Launch slideshow »

A woman’s guilty plea agreement in the 1998 slayings of two anti-racism activists paints her brother as the mastermind behind the crime.

Prosecutors contend the killings, which drew national attention, were motivated by hate.

Details of the double-murder in Melissa Hack’s guilty plea — entered Friday in federal court — contradict how the slayings of Lin “Spit” Newborn, 24, who was black, and Daniel Shersty, 20, an Air Force airman who was white, were portrayed in the state court case, which pegged Hack’s former boyfriend John “Polar Bear” Butler as the ringleader.

State prosecutors always suspected others were involved but couldn’t prove it, said Las Vegas Township Judge William Kephart, a former prosecutor. Testimony in the state court proceedings showed Butler boasted about slaying the two men, who were members of the Anti-Racist Action Group, which is also known as the Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice.

Butler was originally sentenced to die, but that was overturned and he is now serving multiple life sentences for the murders.

Butler’s whereabouts in the prison system are a mystery, suggesting that he might also be brokering a deal with federal prosecutors.

The case lay dormant for more than a decade until 2012, when Melissa Hack, her brother Ross Hack and Leland Jones were indicted on federal charges.

Hack pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to murder, and her agreement outlines the following details:

Melissa Hack, along with her brother, Butler, Jones, Daniel Hartung and Mandie Abels were members of various skinhead groups.

Hartung’s name surfaced during the state case — with Butler’s defense attorneys trying to pin the murders on him and Ross Hack — but he has never been charged, according to court records. Abels secretly pleaded guilty in federal court in 2012 to one count of conspiracy to murder, according to a later unsealed plea agreement.

Melissa Hack said her brother Ross told her and Abels to meet Newborn at the Las Vegas body piercing shop where he worked, and invite him on a date in the desert. Newborn was targeted because he was a member of an anti-racist group and because he was thought to be sleeping with Hartung’s girlfriend.

Shersty was with Newborn when the women went to make the date. Ross Hack told his sister if Shersty came along on, he would “have to get dealt with.”

The women met the men back at the piercing shop, and Melissa Hack paged Butler a pre-arranged code to give them a heads-up.

Ross Hack, Butler, Jones and Hartung were waiting for them when they arrived.

The women introduced Newborn and Shersty to Ross Hack and Jones. Melissa then went to get a beer and saw Jones and her brother shoot Shersty. Newborn sprinted into the desert — Butler was on his heels, shotgun in hand.

“We just shot the guy, let’s go,” Butler said to his girlfriend when he returned.

The next morning Ross Hack told his sister she needed to go back and pick up bullet casings. Melissa Hack went with Butler and one of his friends, but they were spotted by people riding all-terrain vehicles.

The prosecution and defense recommend Melissa Hack spend 20 years in prison, followed by five years of supervised release. She could serve less time if her cooperation proves helpful.

Melissa Hack is set to be sentenced on Sept. 8. Her brother and Jones are scheduled to go to trial on Aug. 18.

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