Sean Almony once considered Joseph Leissler, a towering, bald, 52-year-old white supremacist, a father figure who guided him through life in various Maryland penitentiaries, he said.
Almony, who acted as Leissler’s second-in-command as the two grew a chapter of a neo-Nazi group called the Aryan Brotherhood from a small gang into a feared organization, testified against his former friend at Leissler’s murder trial Tuesday. Leissler didn’t wield the knife in the 2016 fatal stabbing of rival gang member John O’Sullivan, prosecutors said, but he ordered the hit that led to the 43-year-old’s death.
“Whatever big Joe says, that’s what we got to do,” Almony, also known as Sean Almond, testified.
O’Sullivan was the leader of a rival prison gang called Dead Man Inc. While serving time at Jessup Correctional Institution, O’Sullivan was stabbed 32 times with homemade knives by two members of the Aryan Brotherhood in retaliation for an assault on an Aryan Brotherhood member at another prison in August 2016.
After a mistrial in 2019, a jury found Vincent Bunner, 28, and Calvin Lockner, 40, guilty of second-degree murder in January 2020 for stabbing O’Sullivan. Judge Stacy McCormack, who is also presiding over Leissler’s case, sentenced the men to 30 years to be served after the completion of their current sentences.
Brian Hare, who stood look-out during the attack, pleaded guilty to murder and has not yet been sentenced, State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said Tuesday. He is expected to testify against Leissler Wednesday.
Leissler is charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and three counts related to leading a gang whose activities led to the death of another person.
Escorted into the courtroom by five SWAT police officers, Leissler, dressed in a collared shirt, stared down through reading glasses at a stack of documents for most of Almony’s testimony, shuffling the papers and fervently writing notes to his defense attorneys.
“Leissler used rank, authority and power over these men. His absolute authority made killers act on his behalf and that of the gang,” Leitess said in opening arguments Tuesday. “This is the start of his journey of accountability.”
In a brief opening, defense attorney Thomas Rafter emphasized the state’s absence of physical evidence that Leissler participated in O’Sullivan’s murder.
“Leissler wasn’t there, he had nothing to do with it. There’s no shred of physical evidence that links Leissler to the murder of O’Sullivan. The only evidence is witnesses who cut a deal for testimony,” Rafter said. “There’s absolutely no credible evidence he murdered, conspired to murder or participated in a gang.”
Almony, a former member of the Aryan Brotherhood, was granted immunity for his testimony, meaning he is exempt from being charged for any crimes he admitted to while on the stand. Almony was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for murdering a man when he was 17. A new law passed this year prohibited courts from imposing life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles. The Juvenile Restoration Act also opened the possibility of reducing sentences for inmates who were sentenced as juveniles and have served for 20 years. Almony qualifies under the act and has a hearing in the matter scheduled for November.
Defense attorneys Rafter and Jane McGough will argue that Almony was the leader of the gang who orchestrated O’Sullivan’s hit, not Leissler. Almony made prison knives in his free time and gave one to Bunner the day before the fatal stabbing.
In four hours of testimony, Almony explained to the jury how the gang structured its command, recruited members, made money selling food, alcohol and drugs, corresponded with members in other prisons and bolstered its violent reputation by waging wars against rival gangs.
Members of the Aryan Brotherhood inked Nazi swastikas into their skin and shared information through codes and secret names. Almony was present when Leissler ordered at least six attacks over 10 years, he said.
“The objective of every hit was to kill and to be done in front of as many eyes as possible,” Almony said.
His testimony is expected to continue Wednesday.