The kid was under Dana Martin's skin. A convicted murderer serving a life sentence, Martin lay face-down on a prison-issue bed, wincing. Behind him, on a white plastic patio chair, hunched a tattoo artist serving five months for assault.
Grabbing Martin's right ankle, he pressed the buzzing needle of a prison-made inking gun into a pimply white right calf. The gun was improvised using the tiny electric motor of a Radio Shack cassette player, with a piece of guitar string and a pen for a needle—its black ink harvested from the smoke of burning baby oil. The tattooist was finishing up an illicit 15-hour project that had spanned two weeks, putting the final touches on a seraphic face: a young boy with a bowl cut, a hoodie, pouty lips, and a lover's gaze. The kid's name, inked in big, bubbly street lettering, ran up the shin—JUSTIN BIEBER—and beneath that, the date: FEBRUARY 11, 2011. It was a big day for fans of the teen pop idol—Bieber's breakthrough 3-D concert biopic, which Martin had obsessively tracked for weeks on shows like Entertainment Tonight, was arriving in theaters. Martin admired the ink work on the film title, which he adopted as a "Fuck you all" motto: NEVER SAY NEVER.
Now, two years later, as the 45-year-old prisoner stands shackled in a cinder-block room at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility, outside Las Cruces, in late January—his legs in ankle chains, bony wrists clamped to belly chains at his waist—a wry scowl takes over his face. It's as if his strange journey, from adoration to attempted assassination, is causing him pain or humor. Or both.
On November 20 of last year, New Mexico State Police charged him and two others with multiple counts of first-degree conspiracy to commit murder, accusing them of attempting one of the most bizarre and twisted plots ever hatched in a prison. According to the police affidavit, the plan involved kidnapping Bieber in New York City during a sold-out two-concert stand at Madison Square Garden, executing him, and then cutting off his testicles as trophies of their handiwork. Martin has admitted that he masterminded the plot, which also targeted Bieber's bodyguard and two Vermont residents, and brazenly claims he's still trying to kill the pop idol. His codefendants, Mark Staake and Tanner Ruane—an uncle-and-nephew team from Albuquerque—maintain their innocence. For very different reasons, all three defendants eagerly await their trial, for which there is no date yet. Staake and Ruane say they want to put the record straight—that Martin had set them up—while Martin, whose life sentence makes any further punishment academic, is approaching his day in court as one more chance to bask in the spotlight.
Their alleged plot made headlines around the globe, not least because of the manner in which it unraveled. Staake and Ruane missed a turn and ended up at a border crossing, where Staake was apprehended on an outstanding warrant. Bieber's team has remained silent on the alleged plot, except to release a statement assuring his adoring public that "We take every precaution to protect and ensure the safety of Justin and his fans."
The New Mexico prison must now do the same for the Man Who Would Kill Bieber. Martin is on 23-hour-a-day lockdown for his own protection. To the outside world he is a self-styled John Hinckley Jr. or Mark David Chapman for our TMZ-infused times, a fan whose celebrity obsession led him to try to kill for fame. But in the Lord of the Flies food chain of prisons, he is simply a target. Just as engineering the murder of the world's biggest pop star would bring him longed-for notoriety, shivving Martin would bestow valuable cred on a fellow inmate.
I meet Martin in the gymnasium-size visiting room of the 1,300-prisoner facility, which squats in the Chihuahuan Desert, amid dry streambeds and creosote bushes.
"I shaved it for you," says Martin, by way of a greeting. "The tattoo? I always tell people you need to have a shaved Bieber. Believe me, you do not want a hairy Bieber."
Throughout our three-hour interview, Martin displays a flinty sense of humor and a prison-scholar vocabulary peppered with nonwords like "disconvoluted." He speaks in a monologue of associative thought—variously arrogant, insecure, defensive, colorful, witty, and seemingly sociopathic. "I never really had empathy in my life," he tells me. He bemoans his status as a prison pariah. Convicted of first-degree murder for killing a young girl in 2000, he occupies the lowest caste among inmates. He says he's been beaten and sexually assaulted as retribution for his offense. "For killing a 15-year-old female," he complains. "Which seems to be a very unpopular crime."
In his six-by-eight-foot cell, Martin finds solace in watching reports on himself and his plot on E! but is miffed by the coverage—starting with his goateed mug shot. "They keep running this photo of when I had my Apolo Ohno beard, because it looks the creepiest." He bristles at the misrepresentation of his criminal past. "They say I raped the girl I murdered. That never happened." And he is frustrated that no one truly understands why he decided that Justin Bieber must die. "It isn't just so people will know who I am. It's because he changed, and that made me angry."
Justin Bieber's voice first came to Martin over a prison radio in the winter of 2010. As the Canadian phenom exploded across the pop cosmos—his bouncy hit single "Baby" had soared up the charts—Martin, like millions of preteen girls, caught Bieber Fever. "He's an attractive kid, everybody knows that," says Martin, annoyed at having to explain his crush. "Justin Bieber is warm and fuzzy. He's talented. I liked his music." Martin downloaded every song he could manage and eventually amassed 52 on his Department of Corrections–issued mp3 player. Although he had favorite tracks (he finds "Overboard" to be "sad and down-to-earth"), he quickly became more fixated on the musician than on the music. Martin remembers watching Bieber on the Today show emoting to Matt Lauer about how much he cared about his fans: "He just seemed to purr."
A true Belieber, he watched intently as Bieber became ubiquitous, appearing on The View, guest-starring on CSI, flipping off the paparazzi, becoming Ellen DeGeneres' new favorite person ever, and hosting Saturday Night Live. After the 3-D film Justin Bieber: Never Say Never opened, a year later, Forbes ranked the pop star No. 2 on its list of the highest-paid celebrities under 30. Martin loved it. Alone in his cell, he sketched his idol in a bow tie and pink shirt and vest, adding the drawing to his collection of male nudes. (Martin claims his attraction to Bieber is more than sexual, and he turns testy when I raise the subject: "What are you trying to get me to say, that I love Justin Bieber and think he's gorgeous? He's a good-looking kid. Would I go to bed with him? Yeah. He's legal, so probably.") Psychiatrists say celebrity stalkers like Martin may acquire romantic and erotic fixations in order to compensate for their own deficiencies. "Intimacy-seeking stalkers develop fantasy relationships as a way to raise themselves up socially, to feel pleasure, and to escape what is usually a blighted life," says James Knoll IV, the director of forensic psychiatry at the State University of New York's Upstate Medical University.