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Lured, Corrupted, and Killed: Part 1
By Megan Dillard and Scott Lawrence
It starts behind bars.
At its core its a very dysfunctional, violent, hate-filled organization. White supremacy, or the idea that the white race is superior, is what first binds the group together.
KFDM News uncovered that the gang activity is more than matching tattoos, protection in prison, and allegiance. Its a web of violence and organized crime in which even its own members become targets.
"I mean, nobody ever wants to get that call. Your son's been murdered," Vivian Sedtal said about her son, James Lee Sedtal, who was targeted and murdered by his own prison gang.
The groups had their beginnings in state prisons during the 1980's and inmates aligned themselves based on racial threats for a form of protection.
The Texas prison system recognizes 12 security threat groups including the Bloods, the Crips, eight groups identified as Mexican gangs and two others: the Aryan brotherhood of Texas and the Aryan Circle.
Federal prosecutors tell KFDM News that by far most of the cases in East and Southeast Texas center on those two groups.
We researched and discovered it's simplistic to call them white supremacy groups because in a broader sense they're organized criminal enterprises involved in everything from dealing drugs to murder.
To learn more about the groups and their impact Megan Dillard spoke with four key people: A former recruiter with the Aryan Circle who offered a rare glimpse into his world.
Emil Garza who supervises the Texas prison system office that investigates the 12 group identified as security threats, Malcolm Bales, the United States Attorney who has prosecuted a number of high profile white supremacy cases in recent years and Vivian Sedtal, whose son was targeted and murdered by his own group.
"They got life, and so did I," Vivian Sedtal said.
While the sentences are the same, their burdens are different.
"I have to live with the life inside my head, of my son," Vivian Sedtal said. Instead of killing him, they killed half of me too.
James Lee Sedtal spent time behind bars in Burnet County for evading arrest in the early 2000s and then again for drug charges in Jefferson County a few years later.
When asked whether her son ever told her how the gang first approached him, Vivian Sedtal replied: "In jail, in jail."
The Solid Wood Soldiers was the group to whom James Lee Sedtal pledged his loyalty.
"He said, 'Well Mama, you gotta have friends in there to back you up,'" Vivian Sedtal recalled her son saying. "I said 'That's kind of crazy, you're in SWS? For what?' He said, 'Mama, I just want the money and they're my buddies.'"
Just five months later the group took his life.
"He was supposed to meet with them people," Vivian Sedtal said. "And I said, "All the way our there? What for?"
According to his mother, James Lee Sedtal replied: "Don't worry about it Mama, I got it."
In March 2011 Vivian Sedtal knew she hadn't heard from her son in nearly a month and she also knew that officers in Hardin County had recently found a burned body stuffed in a trunk.
One morning Vivian Sedtals mother called.
"She said, 'Did you get a call?' I said 'What call?' She said 'It was, it was.' It was what?! 'It was James Lee.'"
It was a battle between gangs and a gang war prevented with one life taken as a message to others.
An SWS member was murdered by other SWS members because he had shot an ABT member in the hand over a drug transaction gone bad, United States Attorney Malcolm Bales said. They shot him, put him in the trunk of a car, and burned his body.
Bales described the incident has a grotesque and violent act.
"These gangs, they're just outrageous. And what for?" Bales said.
Unanswered questions one mother will ask over and over through the years as she thumbs through all she has left of James Lee.
"I don't ask for pity, I ask for justice, and I didn't get it," Vivian Sedtal said.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice and prosecutors working to stop the bloodshed.
"That type of violence is unacceptable to us," Bales said.
CLICK FOR PART 2: The U.S. Attorney sheds light on what drives inmates to join prison gangs and the former recruiter for the Aryan Circle talks about what happens when they do. He'll explain an order given behind bars that can unleash the violence.
Caught in the middle the supervisor in Texas prisons working every day to find the weapons and stop the bloodshed.