It's a story line that's become so familiar over the years it hardly makes us blink: A gang member hunting down rivals kills an innocent kid.
But the courtroom drama that unfolded last month left me unexpectedly troubled.
The child, shot to death a year ago, was a toddler in his father's arms. The gang member who shot him was 15. He'd fired into a pack of strangers because someone had the wrong color on. He was sentenced to 90 years in prison in a courtroom heavy with outrage and grief.
The mother of the dead toddler sobbed through her tribute: "To us, he was perfect," she said.
The killer, Donald Ray Dokins, now 16, slumped and stared at the floor.
The judge pronounced Dokins a hateful coward, "incapable of showing remorse." But Dokins' weeping family and friends offered a gentler rendition of the baby-faced, bespectacled teen. "He's little in size and little inside," Dokins' teacher told the court.
A frightened kid who writes poetry and gets good grades in school. A gangbanger looking for someone to kill, pedaling a bike and packing a gun.
Can two such different boys reside in one teenager's body? Is it possible to punish one of those versions and rehabilitate the other?
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Fifteen years ago, Ruett and Rhonda Foster were grieving parents in a courtroom. Their 7-year-old son Evan had been shot and killed by a gang member at Inglewood's Darby Park.
Evan was clutching his soccer trophy in the back seat of the family car when bullets aimed at someone else tore through the windshield and struck him in the head.
Three young men were convicted and sent to prison. And the Fosters began performing their own sort of penance, making regular visits to local youth prisons, reaching out to troubled young men.
I joined them on a visit 10 years ago, and it has stayed with me since. They shared the details of Evan's life and the contours of their loss. We listened to young men try to justify the violence in their lives.
"He comes from this 'hood; I come from that 'hood. So he's automatically the enemy," one 16-year-old killer explained. "I didn't understand that he's a person, just like me. You just think, 'I can't wait to put a hit on this fool.' So you get him. Or you get the person he kicks it with."
Or you get a 7-year-old or a toddler, who die in their parents' arms.
What I heard sounded like callousness, indifference, a sense of inevitability that had warped their vision. What the Fosters heard was a cry for help from discarded, disconnected young men.
They are still making those visits, they said, when I visited their Compton home this week. It's draining and often disappointing, but it's what their faith demands.
"The God we serve is a God of second chances," Ruett Foster said. "We don't like the crimes they committed. They're horrific. But at the same time, we've got to help these people turn their lives around."
They see young men like Donald Ray Dokins on every visit. Some are "cold-blooded killers," Ruett admitted. But others are guilty of bad choices, peer pressure, poor judgment, "one stupid moment" they can't take back.
"The atrocity of what happened to our family, that's something I can't change. And I don't feel like we have another choice but to help others find a way."