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A Case Against Him in His Own Words

An ex-Crip's account of gang life, supposedly written to discourage crime, may help a Riverside County prosecutor lock him up for a third strike.

April 12, 2006|Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writer

Colton Simpson's autobiography impressed literary critics last fall with its raw account of the L.A. gang underworld and his war stories of life as a thief, thug and triggerman in the bloody battle between the Crips and Bloods.

The book, "Inside the Crips: Life Inside L.A.'s Most Notorious Gang," was publicized as a tale of the former Crip's redemption, one meant to divert youngsters from street crime and jewelry heists.

Instead, the book could help a Riverside County prosecutor send Simpson, 39, to prison for life, without possibility of parole, for the theft of an $800 diamond earring.

A Superior Court judge is allowing portions of Simpson's book to be used as evidence when jurors in his robbery trial, set to begin next month, consider whether he drove the getaway car in a Temecula jewel heist in 2003.

Allowing a book to be used as evidence is a rarity in a criminal trial -- so too is having a defendant accused of a felony so similar to crimes he admits in a tell-all autobiography.

"We're not digging into somebody's private rap sheet or background," Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephen Gallon argued in court. "This is something that he has caused to be published."

"Inside the Crips," published in August by St. Martin's Press with a first run of 12,000 copies, was publicized as a "true and accurate" account. It is among a handful of gang memoirs by veteran street warriors, including "Life in Prison" by the recently executed Stanley Tookie Williams, none of which appeared to have been used in court, legal experts said.

Jodie Rhodes, Simpson's La Jolla literary agent, said prosecutors were "using the book to crucify" Simpson.

The judge agreed with Gallon's argument that Simpson's accounts of jewel thefts could prove that he intended to rob a Robinsons-May in the Promenade mall.

And since Gallon is pursuing the robbery as a third of "three strikes," Simpson's fate may hinge, in part, on page 42:

"I love doing jewelry licks. I love the power I wield over adults.... It gets so I go in alone, ask to see a Rolex, grab two, dash out the store, turn them around, and have eight thousand dollars stuffed in my pocket."

The passages to be submitted to jurors portray the onetime Crip soldier casing and robbing jewelry stores, whose wares are pawned for cars, booze and more jewelry.

Rhodes and others said Simpson had shed the gang life described in the book and pieced together an honest living: the book deal and a job as the personal assistant to rapper and actor Ice-T.

Simpson, who has been jailed in Riverside for more than a year, said he had been carjacked and forced to drive to and from the robbery -- the story he told Escondido police and co-author Ann Pearlman, according to court documents.

He sent at least two letters to the court saying that his cellphone had been confiscated and that it contained a phone number for a man who witnessed the carjacking.

"I don't think for $800 that he would put his life on hold, that he would go back to prison for $800," said Van Cotright, Simpson's uncle and a former Los Angeles police officer.

At age 10, Simpson and his brothers were struggling to cope with a detached father, Dick Simpson, who had been an outfielder for the Los Angeles Angels in the early 1960s, and a mother who Simpson and his father said neglected the boys. She could not be reached for comment.

Simpson found refuge in the Rollin' Thirties Harlem Crips; he was initiated after a Little League game. The neighborhood gangbangers sprayed gunfire and thrashed him in an alley, rewarding his tenacity with a nickname, Li'l Cee, and a .38 Special, he wrote.

Later that night, he said he shot two Bloods with the ease of firing a toy gun.

Simpson dropped out of school in eighth grade, perfecting smash-and-grabs at jewelry stores and wading through Blood territory in South-Central, "where people live and die in dog years," he wrote.

The gangbanger bounced in and out of jail, spending much of his adult life locked up for burglary and attempted murder. He tacked "Loc" onto his nickname, for loco, or crazy.

"He was too deep," his father said. "He knew it wasn't right, but it was quicksand."

In 1986, during a robbery at a Ben Bridge Jeweler in Redondo Beach, Simpson stole a $30,000 diamond ring and then shot a man who grabbed him from behind, according to court documents.

"Yeah, some good citizen," he wrote in the book. "Turned a simple theft into an armed robbery with attempted-murder charges. Gonna cost the citizens of the state a pile of money. Got himself put in a wheelchair. Stupid people complicating my life."

Simpson served about a dozen years in prison, during which his buddies outside died and his cellmates got stabbed, fraying his ties to gangbanging, he wrote.

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