On the other hand, the newspaper's Sunday edition included a photograph of Radig helping her underage son sip a beer while he played the guitar at a party-an image that didn't exactly convey a clean-cut image. A Saturday-night preview edition of the story that didn't include the offending photograph was seen as evidence by Radig that Times editors had purposely sought to portray her son as a troublemaker. "Someone had a clear intention when they did this," she charged.
staff writer Bonnie Harris is caught in the middle. "I've had the police accuse me of ruining their case, and the mothers think I'm on the cops' payroll," she said. Harris conceded that the families of the youths had expressed concern about the newspaper's decision to run some of the photographs, which showed the boys enjoying their freedom by smoking cigarettes and showing off their music. But, Harris pointed out, the Times also "got letters from people threatening to cancel their subscriptions because we were treating these 'gang members' like movie stars. . . . We got the discussion started, and people are talking."
In fact, Harris' story did more than spark a dialogue about suburban violence. Before the Times got wind of the story, deputy district attorney John Conley had offered the three of the four juveniles an Orwellian plea bargain: admit that the Slick 50's is really a gang and escape with just a year in prison. After the Times reported that the three boys were grudgingly willing to accept the offer by confessing to something-membership in a gang-that they still denied was true, the DA's office withdrew the deal.
All five suspects, who are adults in the eyes of the law, now face trial as equal participants in Carlsen's Aug. 11 assault simply because witnesses at the party had identified them as Slick 50's. And that, the county's gang experts and prosecutors will argue to a jury, is a "gang." It's a tale remarkably similar to the one involving six Latino youths from San Clemente who were railroaded in the infamous anti-immigrant 1994 Steve Woods/paint roller murder trial. Their futures dutifully sacrificed in the name of the fight against gangs, these wrongfully accused teens will be forced to endure several years behind bars-side by side with the hardcore criminals, rapists and murderers who make up the California prison system.