A kingpin of Texas organized crime will spend the rest of his life behind bars in a state prison, where authorities say he'll finally lose his voice in the brutal Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.
James Byrd, 45, was already in federal prison. But that did little to stem his role in the Brotherhood, a prison gang that operates out of federal penitentiaries. Following a years-long joint initiative by federal and state agencies, Byrd will live the rest of his days almost entirely shut off from the outside world.
"He will be in a box for 23 hours a day," said Tarrant County criminal prosecutor Allenna Bangs, who worked Byrd's case. "That will be 50 very hard years."
Prosecutors' goal, Bangs said, was to land Byrd in state prison, where unlike federal prison, policy permits solitary confinement on the basis of gang involvement. That means no time to mill about the yard with other inmates—the setting from which Brotherhood business is conducted.
In the five months Byrd spent free in North Texas between federal sentences, from late 2013 to early 2014, he held the Brotherhood's highest rank for members outside prison—major. In that time, Bangs said, he had worked with success to dominate the North Texas meth trade, had become "very influential" in the gang and had amassed a loyal following.
He also committed some brutal crimes; once he stabbed a man 37 times in the face, and another time he stabbed a man, soaked a piece of bread in his blood, then ate half and shoved the rest in his victim's mouth.
"It was very significant to remove him," Bands said. "His removal in and of itself really calmed things down quite a bit. Because he can call shots, he can communicate with the higher ups."
And she said he had intended to move up the ranks of the gang, which required proving himself through criminal acts.
But convicting a major leader of a national criminal organization wasn't easy. Witnesses, most also involved in the Brotherhood, feared certain death for speaking out against a high figure, known for brutality. So prosecutors employed some adaptive tactics.
"Unfortunately you have to cut deals with bad guys to get worse guys," Bang said.
On several occasions, that meant offering prisoners a chance to see loved ones in the court room if they agreed to testify against Byrd. On others, it meant federal agents testifying on behalf of the prisoners—encouraging their earlier release—based on their cooperation in Byrd's trial.
In the end, attorneys were able to convince a jury that Byrd had directed major elements of the organization, including violent crimes. He was convicted in August, but had to finish serving the remaining three months of his sentence in federal prison for parole violation.
His arrest came as part of a joint initiative by the Texas Rangers, the Department of Homeland Security, the United States Bureau of Prisons, the FBI and local Texas police departments, which aimed at—and succeeded in—curving what Bangs called an "insurgence" of the Aryan Brotherhood in Texas. Since 2009, 73 gang members have been arrested.
"They did a huge sweep," Bangs said. "Now they've got another huge round of people they want to arrest."