By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Shortly after the sheriffs’ arrival, two social workers appeared and told Frances they would be taking the kids into county custody. When the male social worker led them out, Frances wrapped a small blanket around each child. “Be on your best behavior, okay,” she told them. “I love you.”
What comes of Frances’ arrest will take months to determine. The night of the raid, Luis gathered the necessary 10 percent to bail her out. In the intervening weeks, the couple has been to family court twice hoping to get their kids away from county custody and into the care of family or extended family. Yet, as both cases wend their way through the legal system, there is one wild-card element that could adversely affect each outcome. As was mentioned before, the Aguilars have permitted their lives to be written about extensively. This, as it turns out, may be a problem.
IN THE COURSE OF the “American Family” series, Frances and Luis were quite candid about their gang pasts and their sometimes present-day lapses in judgment. Yet, although U.S. law forbids the mention of previous criminal convictions in the prosecution of a new crime, of late it seems that past writings are quite another matter.
The Aguilars have already felt the potentially destructive effect of lives in print when passages from the Weekly articles were presented, out of context, as evidence against them in fall 2004, when they last fought to get their kids back from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. Only when the judge took it upon himself to read the 40,000-word series in its entirety did the supposedly damning excerpts lose their legal power.
Now, in a Riverside County courtroom where a former Crip gang member named Colton Simpson is being tried for robbery, an ominous new legal development has recently occurred. In 2003, Simpson allegedly drove the getaway car for three men who stole a single diamond stud earring from the jewelry counter at the local Robinsons May department store. In the year before his arrest, however, Simpson wrote a critically praised tell-all memoir depicting his life as a gangster and his eventual choice to leave the gang life behind. (Full disclosure: I reviewed the book for the L.A. Times.) While ultimately a redemptive tale, Inside the Crips includes meticulous descriptions of jewelry-store heists that Simpson committed as a 14-year-old, gun-toting, drug-dealing gangster, which Riverside Assistant District Attorney Stephen Gallon has managed to introduce as evidence, arguing that the teenage Simpson’s robberies committed 26 years ago prove a behavioral pattern for the now 40-year-old defendant.
Unlike Simpson, Frances has no previous drug arrests, and no prior felony convictions. But as she and Luis fight to contain the damage that the dual court cases could portend for their family’s future, she wonders if she’ll be battling shadows from her past along with those of her present. “I tried to be honest about who I was,” she says. “Now me and Luis wonder if it will all be held against us.”