By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Dale Jameton sat at the wheel of the pickup, the radio console glowing in his face, a freezer bag full of meth between him and his girlfriend. He looked in the rearview mirror this hot, muggy August night in 2006, at the trail of cops who had been following them since Corsicana. He gunned the truck to 85, barreling down Interstate 45, some 30 minutes outside of Dallas. With his free hand, he opened the bag, scooped out a handful of meth and tossed it in his mouth. If he was going to do this, he needed to be high.
He glanced at his girlfriend. Jennifer Lee McClellan was small, just 5-foot-3 and 135 pounds, with a sturdy build and long brown hair. Her milky white skin was a bit smudged after a day and a half on the run, like a porcelain doll that had been left outside. She had three daughters and a tan brick house in Mesquite. She was a good person, he believed, a hell of a lot better than he was. She put their song in the CD player, "My Best Friend" by Tim McGraw, and turned it up. He told her to put it on repeat. This might be their last ride.
His body told his story. Ten years in Texas prisons had chiseled him down to gristle and bone. His head was shaved to the scalp. His brooding eyes were ringed by shadows. The tattoos that covered his neck, his rippled forearms, his back and legs, he had earned in prison, some of them in maximum security. They were code to those who spoke the language of the underworld. The swastikas around his wrists, the flames on his forearms, the hate dots on his knuckles—they were all signals that he belonged to the Tip or, as it was more commonly known, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. At 27 years old, he was already one of the highest-ranking members of the notorious prison gang.
As much as anything, prison had made him into who he was. He had spent his formative years behind bars, either in juvenile detention facilities or on the gladiator farms of the Texas prison system. He had gone in a petty criminal with a drug problem. He had come out a killer.
On August 1, 2006, he killed a man. He slit his throat, wrapped him in a chain-link fence and dumped him in the Trinity River bottoms. Not long after that, he had watched as an innocent woman was tortured, sexually assaulted and strangled in his kitchen. When it was over, he folded her body into a plastic tub, covered it with cement and dumped it in Lake Ray Hubbard.
Just now the Dallas police were closing in on all sides, sirens wailing. A helicopter hovered above, shining a spotlight on his truck. There wasn't much time. He put his truck in cruise, and McClellan leaned her head on his shoulder. He kissed her softly and promised himself he wouldn't let her die.
The drugs were kicking in. He was lit, 10-feet tall and bulletproof. The helicopter came within several feet of his windshield, blinding him with its spotlight. He let go of the wheel and covered his eyes.
As he neared Loop 12, he veered toward a median, hit the brakes and skidded to a halt, crashing into the concrete barrier. As smoke rose from under the hood, he took the pistol from his lap and loaded one round in the chamber. They wouldn't take him alive, he told McClellan. With what they had on him, he was looking at Death Row. McClellan asked for one last hug, and as they embraced, she took the gun from his hand and threw it out the window. He looked at her in shock. He didn't know whether to laugh out loud or cuss her out.
"I was ready to go out with guns blazing," Jameton would say later. "But she saved my life. She told me, 'I'm not going to let you die.'"
In addition to Jameton and McClellan, Dallas and Mesquite police arrested five other members of Jameton's Mesquite-based Aryan Brotherhood crew that day. The following day, on August 26, group leader Jason Hankins was found on the run in New Mexico. Seven, including Jameton and McClellan, were charged with the killing of Anthony Ormwell Clark, a 43-year-old who had met Hankins in a Fort Worth jail. Four, including Jameton and McClellan, were charged with the slaying of Breanna Taylor, a young Mansfield woman with no criminal record.
News of the grisly murders shocked residents of the quiet Mesquite neighborhood where Jameton and McClellan had lived. Even in Dallas, which has one of the highest crime rates in the United States, the case drew attention. The killings of Ormwell and Taylor were notable for their savagery, their level of sophistication and for what they suggested: The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas was no longer just a prison gang; it had invaded the suburbs.
Last month, Jameton struck a plea bargain with prosecutors. He agreed to plead guilty to both murders and receive two concurrent life sentences if the Dallas District Attorney's Office would drop the murder charges against McClellan. The rest of his crew is awaiting trial, which could begin this spring.