A Gangsta's Memoir Becomes a Smoking Gun

Former Los Angeles gang member Colton Simpson currently faces charges of robbing a jewelry store — and part of the evidence against him is his own autobiography. Prosecutors say that the book, Inside the Crips: L.A.'s Most Notorious Gang, proves Simpson is an unrepentant thief. Simpson's lawyers say using the book is patently unfair.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

It's DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Noah Adams.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. Colton Simpson thought he was doing a good deed. He's a former gang member who told his violent life story in an autobiography as a way to dissuade kids from becoming criminals, but the details in his book piqued the interest of prosecutors, and Simpson is now on trial for driving the getaway car in a jewelry store robbery outside Los Angeles.

Prosecutors say they'll use certain passages of Simpson's book as evidence against him. If he's convicted, Colton Simpson could spend the rest of his life in prison. NPR's Mandalit Del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO reporting:

In the South Los Angeles neighborhood where he rolled with the notorious Crips, Colton Simpson was known as Li'l Cee and later as C-Loc, short for loco or crazy. In his book Inside the Crips, Simpson writes about his days of robbing jewelry stores before he was even a teenager.

Ms. CELESTE FREMONT(ph) (Journalist): I love doing jewelry licks. I love the power I wield over adults.

DEL BARCO: Journalist Celeste Fremont reads from a passage where Simpson describes a heist he says he pulled with Smiley, an older homeboy who initiated Simpson into the Crips.

Ms. FREMONT: It gets so I go in alone, ask to see a Rolex, grab two, dash out of the store, turn them around, and have $8,000 stuffed in my pocket. Not bad walking around money for a 14-year-old.

DEL BARCO: In the LA Times, Fremont wrote a favorable review of Inside the Crips.

Ms. FREMONT: Simpson takes you on this journey from being this 10-year-old kid looking for a dad figure, but still playing Little League, to a serious shooting, robbing, drug-dealing gangster, who ultimately became very well-known on the streets of South LA. And it's quite an unsympathetic portrait he paints of himself, but he allows you to really go on the journey with him.

DEL BARCO: That journey included rising through the ranks to become what was known in the Crips as a stabilizer and then an OG, an original gangster or general. Simpson details old crimes and various arrests and ultimately his break with the Crips. By the end of the book, Simpson is a personal assistant to his friend Tracy Morrow, who had become the famous gangster rapper known as Ice-T.

(Soundbite of Ice-T rap)

In the foreword to Simpson's book, Ice-T writes that Crips rarely express remorse, fear or sentiment. Instead, he said, they tell old war stories and remember themselves as macho soldiers who've conquered prison. But now as Colton Simpson sits in prison awaiting trial, his old war stories are coming back to haunt him.

Mr. STEVEN GALLIN(ph) (Assistant DA, Riverside County): There are references to certain prior activities mentioned by the author which have striking similarities to some of the events in the current case.

DEL BARCO: Steven Gallin is assistant DA in Riverside County who's prosecuting Simpson for his involvement in a 2003 jewelry store robbery, specifically as the driver of the getaway car after another suspect jumped over the store counter to snatch a diamond earring.

Mr. GALLIN: Nobody was injured during this. There's no allegations that anybody was armed during the course of this robbery.

DEL BARCO: The other two suspects were never named, never arrested, but Simpson, who had led a high-speed chase, was later charged with four counts. And because this was his third arrest in a three strikes state, he now faces 30 years to life behind bars.

According to the prosecutor's motion, deputies seized the manuscript for Inside the Crips from Simpson's car when he was arrested. The Assistant DA then convinced a Riverside judge that the book could be used in court to show a behavioral pattern.

Mr. GALLIN: It's one of those types of situations where if you're going to print something or write something, you should always think it through as to what you're going to be putting into a book or what you're actually going to be quoted as saying. I mean, it goes to common sense, I think.

DEL BARCO: Even though the crimes happened more than two decades ago, legal expert Laurie Levenson, says it's true there's no cut-off date for a particular act to be admissible in court.

Ms. LAURIE LEVENSON (Legal Expert): So glory comes with a price. You want to be a famous book author, then anything you say is out there for public consumption, including in the courts. The problem for the defendant is he's never been to law school, and he doesn't realize that there's no privilege to write a book and not have it used against you.

DEL BARCO: In a letter to journalist Celeste Fremont, the now 40-year-old Simpson wrote that he has proof the police set him up. Whether or not this is true, Fremont says sentencing Simpson to life could chill out any other former gang members hoping to write tell-all books.

Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News Los Angeles.

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Inside the Crips: Life inside L.A.'s Most Notorious Gang

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Album
Inside the Crips: Life inside L.A.'s Most Notorious Gang
Artist
Colton Simpson with Ann Pearlman
Label
St. Martin's Press
Released
2005

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