A neo-Nazi who will face trial for allegedly killing a white woman in an interracial relationship plans to use his great-grandfather as part of his defense.
The defense for Travis Ricci, whose murder trial is set to begin June 6, is expected to argue that Ricci isn't the man he once was, in part because he realized his great-grandfather was a member of the French Resistance killed by Nazis in World War II, The Associated Press reported. Authorities are seeking the death penalty for Ricci, who has pleaded not guilty.
Ricci is accused of shooting and killing Kelly Ann Jaeger in 2009 when she was with her boyfriend Jeffrey Wellmaker, who is black. Police said Ricci — who was allegedly drunk and shirtless — shouted slurs and threats at the couple, then ran to a home where members of the Vinlanders Social Club, a white supremacist group, were partying. Police said he grabbed a shotgun and, with an accomplice, found the couple and fired two shots, killing Jaeger instead of Wellmaker, his intended target.
Before being charged in Jaeger's murder, Ricci was arrested for allegedly slamming his girlfriend's head into a wall and stabbing two men who came to her defense. He had been sentenced to 22 years in prison for that case and was already locked up when he was arrested on charges in the Jaeger case.
His alleged accomplice in the killing, Aaron Schmidt, was tracked down in Tennessee and extradited to Arizona. The two face charges for murder, attempted murder, assisting a gang, drive-by shooting and aggravated assault.
Ricci and Schmidt are both said to be members of the Vinlanders Social Club, though their attorneys have denied this. Ricci has tattoos including SS lightning bolts, a swastika, a Hitler-style moustache on one finger and the SS motto "Meine Ehre Heisst Treue" ("my honor is loyalty," a popular slogan for hate groups).
Ricci has French citizenship, and in 2014 his defense team enlisted former French justice officials to appeal the death penalty in the case, since France is opposed to putting criminals to death.
Jennifer Willmott, one of Ricci's defense attorneys, insists that Ricci is not a member of a hate group and called him "a very sensitive person who cares about people in general."
Ricci's lawyer have also said Wellmaker failed to recognize Ricci in a police lineup and even when the two ended up in the same Maricopa County jail in 2011 and played chess together.
[Photo: Maricopa County Superior Court]