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Gang-life author is guilty of robbery

A former member of the Crips is convicted of a jewelry store heist in Temecula in 2003.

September 11, 2007|David Kelly | Times Staff Writer

A Riverside County jury Monday found former Crips gang member Colton Simpson, who wrote a tell-all book about his life on the streets of Los Angeles, guilty of robbing a jewelry store, which could send him to prison for life.

The jury convicted Simpson of planning the March 17, 2003, heist at the then Robinsons-May Co. in Temecula, driving the getaway car and leading police on a high-speed freeway chase. With 10 previous convictions for serious crimes, the 41-year-old man could face life behind bars when he is sentenced Sept. 28.

In 2005, Simpson wrote the book "Inside the Crips: Life Inside L.A.'s Most Notorious Gang," which explored in graphic detail how he joined the gang at age 10, shot two rival gang members shortly after and began robbing jewelry stores when he was 14.

During Simpson's three-week trial, Riverside County prosecutor Charles Lockwood used passages from the book to try to establish Simpson's character in the jury's mind.

"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," Simpson wrote in the book.

Simpson has spent much of his life in prison, including a dozen years for shooting and paralyzing a man who tried to tackle him during a robbery.

Lockwood also produced phone records that cast doubt on Simpson's primary defense -- that he was carjacked the day of the robbery by his estranged half brother.

The prosecutor pointed out the sheer number of calls Simpson made during that time, and none were to 911 indicating that he was being carjacked.

He said Simpson was living a lie and that he hung around wealthy rappers such as Ice-T, for whom he did some work. Simpson acted rich while in reality he was broke, even pawning a metal ring for $30, Lockwood said.

The prosecution and defense agreed that the robbery was amateurish. Two men entered the store after Simpson scouted it out. One jumped over the counter and grabbed a single diamond earring worth about $700 before the clerk slammed the case shut. They fled with Simpson driving, the prosecution said. The other men remain at large.

The defense pointed out that someone with Simpson's criminal prowess would never botch a robbery so badly.

Simpson's attorney, Richard Briones-Colman, said his client was flush with opportunity. He had a new book, he was working for Ice-T, and his life had turned around.

"I think there were holes in both cases, but I think there was reasonable doubt," he said. "It was obviously damaging when the book came into evidence."

Riverside County Superior Court Judge F. Paul Dickerson III allowed portions of the book to be used as evidence but forbade those parts dealing with gangs and violent robberies.

"I don't see how they could exclude the gang evidence, given the title of the book," Briones-Colman said.

Jurors said the book did have some effect.

"It showed that he has been doing this sort of thing since he was 14," said one, who identified herself only as Mary. "The whole book glorifies this kind of lifestyle."

Other jurors said the phone records were the most compelling evidence against him.

Simpson's literary agent, Jodie Rhodes, said "an enormous injustice has been done."

"They really used the book as the prime evidence," she said. "The idea that when everything was going right for him for the first time that he would be the getaway driver in a throwaway robbery doesn't make sense."

She said the book, co- written by psychologist Ann Pearlman, had languished because Simpson had not been able to promote it.

"It sold a number of copies in the first few weeks, but there was no Colton because he was locked up," Rhodes said. "That killed all his marketing and promotion."

Briones-Colman will file a motion asking the judge to set aside Simpson's previous strikes so he can avoid life imprisonment, which comes with three felony convictions. The motion will be heard on sentencing day.

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david.kelly@latimes.com

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