Rich Ford, a Jasper police officer, acknowledged that the symbols on John William King's skin could be interpreted in different ways. "Some may have expression of love and some of hate," he said.
But he acknowledged motivation for the tattoos could be meant to intimidate other inmates who might prey on a white man in jail who was 5ft 7in (1.52m) tall.
"It's in the eye of the beholder," Brack Jones, for the defence, told him. Mr Ford agreed.
Mr King is accused of murdering James Byrd Jr last year by chaining him to the back of a pickup truck and dragging him for nearly three miles along a bumpy asphalt road, dismembering his body. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Two other men, Lawrence Brewer, 31, and Shawn Berry, 23, also are charged and are to be tried later.
Prosecutors are portraying Mr King as so hateful he proudly adorned his body with dozens of racist tattoos. He obtained most of them while he was in prison for a burglary conviction.
One depicts the lynching of a black man while others show Nazi-type SS lightning bolts, a satanic star and the sign of a white supremacist group and the words "Aryan Pride".
"Obviously you can't commit a crime this heinous unless you've got a lot of hate and anger in your heart," Guy James Gray, for the prosecution, said on Wednesday.
"Devils and monster faces and skulls and things like that are pretty consistent with somebody having a lot of hate in their heart."
Mr King's lawyers had objected to photographs of the tattoos, saying the art was constitutionally protected as freedom of expression. Their objections were overruled.