FRESNO — To some people a tattoo is a work of art, a rite of passage, a symbol of individual freedom. Others see tattoos as an indelible mark of gang life.
The debate will take center stage Friday in a criminal trial in Fresno County Superior Court because attorneys believe the viewpoints of 12 jurors could determine if two Fresno men spend the rest of their lives in prison.
The case has drawn widespread attention because of the allegations: Two Bulldog gang members are accused of inking a gang tattoo on a 7-year-old boy. A criminal complaint charges them with willful cruelty to a child and aggravated mayhem, which carries a life prison sentence.
The Fresno gang members admitted Thursday that it was wrong to ink a tattoo on a 7-year-old boy and accepted a plea deal that will send them to prison for a few years.
Enrique Gonzalez and Travis Gorman smiled and shook hands with their attorneys in Fresno County Superior Court after receiving word that the district attorney's office wanted to settle the case to avoid a second trial.
Gonzalez, 27, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of corporal injury to a child. He admitted that he tattooed his son in order to promote the image of a criminal street gang.
Gorman, 22, pleaded no contest to the felony charge and no contest to a misdemeanor charge of street terrorism.
Earlier this month, a jury had found Gonzalez and Gorman not guilty of mayhem, which would have carried a punishment of life in prison. The panel deadlocked on lesser felony charges.
As a result, prosecutors had the option to retry the defendants on the lesser charges.
Instead, they offered to let the two plead guilty to the lesser charges and have Judge Arlan Harrell, who presided over the first trial, sentence them.
The prosecutors asked for 10 years in prison for Gonzalez and 12 years for Gorman. The defense wanted less.
Harrell settled on six years for Gonzalez and five for Gorman.
Gonzalez could be released in about two years with credit for time he has served in the Fresno County Jail, and Gorman could be released in about three years, lawyers said.
After the pleas were announced, the defendants' lawyers blasted prosecutors for wasting taxpayers' money by not pursuing a deal sooner.
Gonzalez has regretted tattooing his son since it happened in Gorman's garage during Easter break 2009, said Douglas Foster, who represents Gonzalez.
The district attorney's office and the Fresno Police Department had built their case on the boy's account that his father held him down on a couch as Gorman inked the tattoo.