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Jury Convicts 3 in Murders on Halloween : Courts: Pasadena gang members are found guilty of first-degree homicide. They could be sentenced to the death penalty.

December 23, 1995|ABIGAIL GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three Pasadena gang members were found guilty Friday of gunning down a group of trick-or-treating boys on Halloween night in 1993, a crime that to many symbolized the intrusion of urban-life horror into the haven of the suburbs.

Upon hearing the first of what would be more than two dozen guilty verdicts, relatives of the slain boys--Edgar Evans, 13, and Stephen Coats and Reggie Crawford, both 14--broke into sobs. Coats' oldest sister threw her head back and shouted "Oh, yes!" before collapsing into her sister's embrace.

Lorenzo Alex Newborn, 25, Karl Holmes, 20, and Herbert Charles McClain Jr., 26, were each found guilty on three counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder after about eight days of deliberations in the case before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge J.D. Smith.

In addition, McClain was found guilty of the attempted murder of Robert Lee Price three days before the boys' deaths.

Holmes, who sat quietly through the nearly two-month case, shouted a string of expletives at the jurors as his verdicts were read. When they were escorted from the courtroom, Newborn flashed his gang sign at the audience.

The racially mixed jury must still determine the defendants' punishment. At a minimum, because the three were found guilty of the special circumstances of lying in wait and committing multiple killings, each will serve life in prison without the possibility of parole. They could be sentenced to death.

Two other defendants, Aurelius Bailey and Solomon Bowen, will be tried after punishment is determined for the first three defendants.

"Praise God," said Deborah Bush, Stephen Coats' mother, as the final guilty verdicts were read. "I was in the dark for two years and this is my light."

During deliberations, jurors reconsidered only three witnesses' testimony: the eyewitness who saw Holmes and McClain near the scene, and the two people who provided Newborn with an alibi.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Antony Myers cited a number of factors that contributed to the verdicts, including the three innocent victims, eyewitness testimony placing two defendants near the scene and McClain's own testimony.

With their verdicts, jurors essentially affirmed Myers' version of events on Halloween 1993, in a section of northwest Pasadena increasingly terrorized by some of Los Angeles County's most violent gangs.

Defense attorneys had charged that their clients were the targets of continual police harassment, identified only by felons who were paid for their testimony.

Indeed, there was no physical evidence linking the defendants to the crime scene--no fingerprints, DNA, bodily fluids or footprints. No murder weapon has ever been recovered. None of the surviving victims could identify the gunmen, all of which made conviction a hard-won battle.

Myers and Deputy Dist. Atty. Jonlyn Callahan alleged that it was McClain who unwittingly began the cycle of events when he shot Price three times Oct. 28, 1993.

Prosecutors said that three days later, when McClain's associate Fernando Hodges was shot and killed, McClain and his cohorts believed it was Price's friends who were to blame. That, Myers said, was their first mistake.

Standing outside the Huntington Memorial Hospital emergency room, where Hodges lay dying, the group plotted their revenge against their rivals, Myers said.

They traveled around Pasadena until they got to a corner market on Wilson Street and saw a group of unusually tall young boys, one of whom wore a black bandanna. Another carried a blue bandanna, visible from his pocket.

The cars, witnesses testified, drove around the block and parked.

That is when Newborn and Holmes took their places in some bushes, McClain waited elsewhere in the area, and the group waited for the children to walk by, assuming they were Crips upon whom they could take their revenge--their second, and most horrible, mistake, Myers said.

McClain, who took the stand in his defense, confirmed at least part of the prosecution's theory. Although he denied shooting Price and steadfastly refused to acknowledge any involvement in the children's deaths, McClain said he was indeed out for revenge the night Hodges died.

"I felt I was going to get some 'get back' for that, I was going to retaliate," McClain said under cross-examination. "I was going to kill a Crip."

Although it was not his attorney's preference to have McClain take the stand, she said at the time she had to respect his wishes to do so.

"Generally, since the prosecution carries the burden of proof, my advice to all my clients is not to take the stand," Harris said after hearing McClain's testimony. "But it is his life on the ine, not mine."

On Friday, Harris would only say that she was gearing up for the penalty phase, which begins Jan. 3.

The prosecution witnesses gave a different accounting of events than the defendant--although throughout the trial, even the district attorneys wondered whether the witnesses were a boon or a hindrance to their case.

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