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Ex-gang member's written exploits used against him in Temecula robbery trial

September 05, 2007|David Kelly | Times Staff Writer

A former Crips gang member who detailed his criminal exploits in a 2005 book was hammered with his own words Tuesday as prosecutors argued that he helped carry out a botched jewelry store robbery in Temecula before faking a carjacking to cover his tracks.

Colton Simpson, author of "Inside the Crips: Life Inside L.A.'s Most Notorious Gang," rarely looked up during closing arguments in a case that could be his third strike and send him to prison for life.

Instead, he scribbled notes while Riverside County prosecutor Charles Lockwood cited portions of the book as evidence that Simpson not only specialized in jewelry heists, but reveled in them.

One especially damning section read: "I love doing jewelry licks. . . . 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."

While denying defense arguments that there would be no case without the book, Lockwood said the words provided evidence of Simpson's character and a predilection for robbery.

"The defendant really did write a book about robbing jewelry stores. The defendant really did slap his face on the cover and say 'This is what I'm proud of,' " Lockwood said. "But even at his best he wasn't that good. He still got busted."

The prosecutor said that, at the time of his arrest, Simpson, 41, was using seven different names, three Social Security numbers and three birth dates. And, he said, Simpson cased the store before the robbery, setting up lookouts and a getaway car.

"He says, 'I like doing these robberies because I know it's a quick easy way to make a lot of money fast,' " Lockwood said, paraphrasing Simpson's book.

Yet, compared to his claims of cleaning out a jewelry store at age 14 and making off with $179,000, the Temecula job seemed amateurish.

Police say two men walked into a Robinsons-May on March 17, 2003. Witnesses testified that one of them leaped over the counter and grabbed a diamond earring worth about $700 before a clerk slammed the case shut and locked it. The men fled in a silver Ford Taurus allegedly driven by Simpson. A friend of the suspect had listed him as the driver when she rented it.

Simpson said he was carjacked by his estranged half brother the day of the robbery, yet prosecutors said he was on a cellphone repeatedly during the alleged carjacking yet never called 911.

"You can't be calling all over the place on your cellphone if you've been carjacked. You call 911," Lockwood said.

But Richard Briones-Colman, Simpson's attorney, accused Lockwood and police of distorting the truth and lying in order to obtain a conviction. He said one investigator threatened to deport a witness unless she cooperated in the case against Simpson. The police officer denied making the threat.

"You have to ask yourself was that officer lying to my face?" Briones-Colman said. "And the answer is, yes he did."

He argued that Simpson can't be tried for crimes he wrote about that were committed 20 years ago. In fact, he said, the Temecula robbery was so badly botched that it defied logic for someone of Simpson's criminal expertise to be behind it.

"The person described here at 14 was indisputably more sophisticated and had better planning than they did," he said.

According to his book, Simpson joined the Rollin' Thirties Harlem Crips at age 10. The day he was initiated into the gang he shot two rival Bloods with a .38-caliber revolver, he wrote. Over the years he stole thousands of dollars worth of jewelry and shot and paralyzed a man who tried to tackle him during a heist.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge F. Paul Dickerson III has allowed portions of the book to be used as evidence but disallowed parts dealing with gang shootings and violent robberies.

Briones-Colman said Simpson had too much going for him now to waste it all on a small-time robbery. He's working for the rapper Ice-T, had just written a book with coauthor Ann Pearlman, and his father, Dick Simpson, was a well-known outfielder for the Los Angeles Angels in the early '60s.

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