Gang leader gets prison in man's slaying

The president of the now defunct Sin City Deciples motorcycle gang was handcuffed in preparation for a four-year prison sentence Monday in connection with last year's killing of a man who apparently ran afoul of gang rules.

Mesa County District Judge Valerie Robison ordered Richard Byrd, 49, into custody soon after hearing him offer a new version of the events that led to the March 2017 shooting death of 38-year-old Dion Nixon in a confrontation with gang members. Byrd led a formation of Deciples to Nixon's home in the James Trailer Park, according to several witnesses. A drunken and angry Nixon saw the gang approach and began waving a gun, according to witness accounts recounted during Byrd's sentencing hearing, as well as one a few hours earlier for Rufus Billups, the 42-year-old sergeant-at-arms for the gang at the time.

Byrd, through his attorney, told Robison he hadn't intended to drive the gang by Nixon's house, but that one member broke formation — and gang protocol — to turn into the trailer park and that Byrd brought up the rear.

Gunshot residue was found on his arm, but not on his hands, suggesting he hadn't fired a firearm and the residue might have been placed there as he hugged gang members after the shooting, according to Byrd.

Five gang members and four women were in the group that confronted Nixon.
Byrd also denied speaking to Nixon on the telephone during a heated argument that authorities said precipitated the confrontation. Never during any hearing for two defendants in the case had Robison heard that the Deciples had broken formation or any denial that Byrd had participated in the phone call.

Authorities contend that the gang considered Nixon's girlfriend "property" and were bound to deal with her complaints of abuse at Nixon's hand. Robison said she was "perplexed" by Byrd's last-minute version, which he offered after pleading guilty to attempting to influence a public servant in a deal that left sentencing up to the judge. Byrd had been free on bond until the hearing.

Soon after Robison noted that Byrd was offering new information, a deputy arrived in the courtroom. None had been on duty previously. Byrd had a responsibility to the gang to keep it out of trouble, Robison said.
"You were the president of the organization," Robison said, adding that it was "hard to believe" that he was riding at the end of the line, or that his arms were contaminated by gunshot residue by hugs.

Robison hours before gave Billups a suspended four-year prison sentence, noting that authorities found no gunshot residue on him after the shooting. Billups denied firing a gun, though he did accept possession of one afterwards, according to information offered at his sentencing. Robison said the lack of gunshot residue on Billups was a key element of her decision in handing down the suspended sentence for Billups.

Last week, Mesa County District Judge Richard Gurley sentenced a third person, Gregory Clark, 39, to time served after he pleaded guilty to reckless manslaughter. He was in jail for 298 days and was sentenced to 90 days.

Clark had fired the fatal shot, but it was unclear whether he was shooting in self defense. Gang members and residents, however, told authorities that Nixon was the first to fire shots.

Investigators and prosecutors had difficulty piecing together all the things that happened, District Attorney Dan Rubinstein said. Byrd, Billups and Clark were originally charged with first-degree murder. Billups was sentenced on a charge of attempting to influence a public servant and possession of a weapon by a previous offender.

Nixon's family was endangered and traumatized by bullets whizzing through the mobile homes, Rubinstein said. Byrd called out instructions to his family about what to do with his cellphone, which he had left on a courtroom bench, as he was being taken into custody.

The Grand Junction chapter of the Sin City Deciples no longer exists, said Billups' attorney, Matt Daymon.