Crittenton gang ties questioned

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LOS ANGELES -- Jailhouse interviews with a suspected and admitted member of two separate Los Angeles street gangs have revealed new information in the criminal case involving former NBA player Javaris Crittenton.

Unlike the circumstances of NFL wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who was released by the Philadelphia Eagles last week amid reports of suspected ties to Los Angeles gang members, Crittenton's case, which is expected to play out in a June trial in Atlanta, could offer a more revealing look into a suspected link between a professional athlete and gang members.

Prior to his alleged involvement in two August 2011 Atlanta-area shootings, the second of which left a mother of four, 22-year-old Jullian Jones, dead, Crittenton was best known to most NBA fans for his role in the infamous showdown with former Washington Wizards teammate Gilbert Arenas in which both players admitted to displaying guns in the locker room.

Today, Crittenton, 26, sits in Atlanta's Fulton County jail, awaiting trial for murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to deal marijuana and cocaine, along with a host of related offenses stemming from two separate indictments. Crittenton's cousin, Douglas Gamble, faces the same charges, and both are scheduled to stand trial June 9.

Crittenton's April 2013 indictment on murder charges also includes one count that is now being called into question by one of his associates: participation in a criminal street gang.

Prosecutors allege that during Crittenton's 2007 rookie season with the Lakers, after he signed as a first-round pick (19th overall) for $2.6 million in guaranteed money, he joined a West Los Angeles street gang known as the Mansfield Gangster Crips.

"He's not from Mansfield. He's not in no gang, period," Asfaw Abebe, an inmate in the Los Angeles County Prison system, told "Outside the Lines."

According to Los Angeles police, Abebe is a classified member of the Mansfield Gangster Crips.

While Abebe's comments could seemingly help Crittenton defend himself against the gang allegations, defense attorneys interviewed by "Outside the Lines" offer different views regarding Abebe's value as a potential character witness.

"I don't see any downside to calling Abebe as a witness," said Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Richard Hirsch. "If they're trying to say Crittenton was a member of this gang in Los Angeles, Abebe could say that he isn't."

Ed Garland, an Atlanta-based attorney who once represented former NFL linebacker Ray Lewis at Lewis' June 2000 murder trial, disagrees.

"I wouldn't call a dirty witness if I could avoid it, because the dirt will wash over onto my client," Garland said.

The gang charge is a potential boon to prosecutors. Garland said that whenever prosecutors introduce gang charges, "it strikes fear in the jurors."

There's also a practical concern for Crittenton's defense.

"Under Georgia law it's a lot easier to introduce gang evidence when a person is charged with gang activity," said a source close to the Crittenton case, who would only comment on the condition of anonymity because he's not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Had the gang charge not been included in the indictment, it's possible the judge could have barred any discussion of Crittenton's suspected gang ties at trial, the source said.

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