Two words scrawled over Dion Lee Milam's eyebrows -- "Aryan Honor" -- have been staring 12 jurors in the face during a murder trial that is drawing to a close in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
But the Empire man's white supremacist beliefs are not on trial, so Milam wore a buttoned collar to hide an eagle and swastika he has tattooed on his neck, and no one mentioned the words on his face.
Milam, 35, is accused of firing a fatal gunshot while he tried to steal a drug dealer's stash nearly five years ago. Jury deliberations over five serious felony charges began late Thursday, after attorneys gave their closing arguments.
A prosecutor said bullets, bullet holes and blood spatter at the crime scene show that Milam's .38-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver was used to kill 45-year-old William Lederle, a construction worker who sold drugs on the side.
He said two women who were in Lederle's trailer on Church Street on the night of the fatal shooting tell the rest of the story.
"You put the facts to the law and you'll find the defendant guilty of all these charges," Deputy District Attorney Nate Baker said.
A defense attorney said testimony from the women is unreliable, particularly because one of them suggested, when she placed a panicked call to 911, that she killed Lederle. He said Milam had the murder weapon when he was arrested but purchased it after Lederle died.
"Critically look at the evidence," attorney Cornelio Hernandez said.
Milam was picked up on a parole violation Jan. 11, 2003, when he allegedly resisted arrest and tried to pull the gun on two detectives. A ballistics test determined the gun had been used to kill Lederle four days earlier.
Crucial testimony came from Susan Carter, Lederle's girlfriend, who called for help at 1:25 a.m. on Jan. 7, 2003. Carter told a dispatcher that she shot Lederle, but later said Lederle was shot by an intruder, according to a tape of the 911 call that was played for the jury.
The prosecutor said Carter was so panicked that she didn't understand the dispatcher's questions. The defense attorney said Carter shot Lederle by accident as an intruder stormed the home, then tried to cover her tracks.
When Carter took the witness stand in mid-October, she said she was an innocent bystander and afraid for her life. "I couldn't hear what (the 911 dispatcher) was saying," Carter said. "A man was dying in front of me."
The prosecutor said Carter's story is corroborated by Danielle Cole, who said she went to Lederle's trailer with Milam on the night of the shooting. The defense attorney said Cole initially told authorities that she purchased drugs from Lederle, then left.
Cole told the jury that Milam told her to go inside the trailer and find out where Lederle kept his money and drugs. She said she spoke with Lederle in a back bedroom, warning him that Milam, whom she called "Bugsy," was outside.
Carter said Lederle thrust a .22 Marlin rifle in her hands as Cole fled. She said Lederle had an 8 mm Mauser rifle and fired one shot at an intruder just outside his bedroom door. She said she was hiding behind the bed, and never saw the intruder.
Milam is charged with first-degree murder, residential burglary, attempted robbery, attempted brandishing of a firearm to resist arrest and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He faces life without the possibility of parole if convicted of all charges.
Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2338.