Four followers of the band Insane Clown Posse admitted in court Monday to acting as members of a criminal street gang that police call Juggalos when they assaulted a man strolling with his daughters through Graceada Park a year ago.
Brandon Ferrell, 19, Kurt Petersen, 23, and Larry Williams, 20, pleaded no contest to a felony charge of assault likely to produce great bodily injury in addition to a gang enhancement. Joshua Huggins, 18, pleaded guilty to the same charge and enhancement.
A judge sentenced Williams, who has a previous conviction under the state's "three strikes" law, to seven years in state prison. Petersen, Ferrell and Huggins each got a year in county jail. Ferrell and Huggins were expected to be released from jail Monday because they have served their time. Petersen still must serve several months of his 365-day sentence.
All four waived their right to appeal their convictions.
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"For me, it wasn't an easy call," Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira said of offering the plea deal. "The defendants were very young, but (the victim) was critically injured. In the end, I think justice was served."
Monday morning, the courtroom gallery was filled with young people, some in Insane Clown Posse clothing. A few hissed and scoffed as victim William August, 54, called Juggalos "dangerous, malevolent gangbangers" and detailed the pain he's been through since the March 7, 2009, attack.
"The injuries I sustained in the mob attack were grievous," August said, after limping to the front of the courtroom to address Judge Nancy Ashley. "I'll never walk normally again."
August, who is 6 feet 8 inches tall, said he tried to do the right thing by walking away but fears what he might do if attacked again.
"It has made me wary of people in a way I never have been before," he said.
Ferreira acknowledged that not all people who listen to Insane Clown Posse are gang members. But she said the men are more than fans of the band, whose lyrics are so raw they wouldn't be heard on mainstream radio, because they travel in a pack, share a common sign or symbol -- the cartoon hatchet man associated with the Detroit-based band -- and commit crimes.
Defense attorneys said their clients are just young men who got drunk and behaved badly.
"This group is no different than the Deadheads or any other fan base," said defense attorney Bill Miller. "They're not a criminal street gang."
According to witnesses, Petersen ran up to August, asked to shake his daughters' hands, received a rebuff because he made the family uncomfortable, then returned about 10 minutes later with his friends, who toppled August and kicked him, breaking his leg in two places and shattering his knee.
The defendants, along with another man who has not been charged, were pulled off August by other Juggalos.
Ferrell, Huggins and Petersen each could face seven to 10 years in prison if they violate the terms of their felony probation.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.