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 line, 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.
According to one man who told his story to the jury, the baby-faced Holmes was less than contrite after the incident. "We were lying in the bushes and we jumped out and said, 'Trick or treat,' and started blasting," Holmes was alleged to have bragged.
But the witness making the allegations, who told jurors that testifying made him fear for his life, was a four-time felon who was in jail at the time he gave police his information.
And before McClain discovered that the victims were children, he also bragged of his involvement, another witness told police.
"Boom boom, pow pow pow--I can still hear the noise," McClain was alleged to have said about the Halloween murders.
At the trial, that witness said he did not recall making such a statement.
Many times, police tape their important interviews. That witness's interview, however, was not one of those times--a notable exclusion, the defense said.
Bush, Stephen Coats' mother, watched the proceedings every day from the courtroom's second row, sometimes dabbing at her eyes, other times looking on expressionless.
When it was her turn to tell what she saw that night, Bush told jurors that moments before Stephen died, she offered him and his brother a ride home.
Stephen answered for himself and his brother. "No, your car is so slow I can probably beat you home," he told her.
After she pulled into her driveway, Bush, a crime scene investigator for the Pasadena Police Department, heard the spray of gun shots and ran to the scene to offer aid--not knowing that one of the victims was her child.
"I saw it was my son," she told the court, sobbing. "He had a bullet in his head and he was already gone."
On Friday, as she thanked the prosecutors and police investigators, Bush smiled.
"I never gave up," she said. "Justice was done today."
Times staff writer Antonio Olivo contributed to this report.