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Soldier joked about death tattoo before killings

February 14, 1997

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) _ Riding around with two fellow soldiers, a Fort Bragg paratrooper joked about earning a skinhead spider web tattoo for killing a black person, one of the soldiers testified.

Former Army paratrooper James Burmeister, who had a 9mm pistol in his belt, got out of the car with fellow paratrooper Malcom Wright, Randy Meadows testified Thursday.

``I heard gunshots,″ said Meadows, who pleaded guilty to reduced charges in exchange for his testimony in the murder trial of Burmeister, 21, of Thompson, Pa.

Burmeister could get the death sentence if convicted of killing Jackie Burden, 22, and Michael James, 36.

Earlier that day, Burmeister and Meadows had seen Wright’s spider web tattoo, which Wright said meant the wearer had killed a black person, Meadows said.

Burmeister ``laughed and said, `Maybe I’ll earn my spider web tonight‴ just before the shooting, Meadows said.

During Meadows’ testimony, Wright was asked to come into the courtroom and show his tattoo to the jury.

As he stood beside the jury box and displayed the large tattoo that centered on his elbow and spread along the forearm and biceps, he glared at Meadows in the witness box. Meadows looked away.

Meadows testified that he, Burmeister and Wright rode around drinking beer before the shooting. He said his companions were hunting for blacks.

Some people Burmeister saw on the street were spared because there were too many people around and the area was well lighted, according to the testimony. The pair that was killed died on a dimly lighted dirt road.

Burmeister and Wright left their jackets with skinhead insignia, jewelry and wallets in the car to avoid being identified if caught, Meadows testified.

The soldiers, all white, have been discharged from the Army.

Earlier Thursday, Meadows testified that a month before the killings, Burmeister built and tested a bomb to prepare for what he called a ``racial holy war.″ Burmeister used it to blow up a 30-pound tree stump, he said.

``There was nothing left of the stump,″ Meadows said. ``It was great.″

Meadows said Burmeister wanted to prepare the bomb ``so he could have the knowledge for later in the Rahowa, the racial holy war.″

Meadows said he also drove Burmeister to a barracks room where skinheads were meeting to create an organizational structure. Meadows said he didn’t attend the meeting because he wasn’t a skinhead, but Burmeister later told him he’d been assigned a low rank in the organization. Prosecutors contend the killings were carried out as part of an initiation.

Meadows also testified that in their barracks in Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne Division, Burmeister talked about blowing up a synagogue and even looked in a telephone book for an address.

The defense objected to evidence about Burmeister’s racial attitudes and fondness for hate songs and Nazi flags. After nearly two hours of argument, though, Superior Court Judge Coy Brewer Jr. allowed it.

Defense attorney Larry McGlothlin said: ``Somewhere along the line, the state’s theory has to recognize we have a Constitution that allows people to believe what they want to believe.″

But District Attorney Ed Grannis said the racist attitudes and symbols explain Burmeister’s motive. ``He went out and hunted down blacks because of his personal hatred toward them,″ he said.

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