Mary Louise Thompson became known as the "Gang Mom" after launching a crusade against gangs five years ago when her teenage son, a gang member, was sent to prison.
But police say the 41-year-old Thompson began to act like a gang member herself, talking their talk and allowing them to use her house as a headquarters before she masterminded the community's first gang-related murder.Thompson, who helped organize the city's gang prevention task force, is to stand trial Tuesday on a charge of aggravated murder in the 1994 shooting death of Aaron Iturra, 18. She has been in county jail since her arrest in February 1995 and could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
Thompson's lawyer, Steve Chez, says she is innocent and simply took a street-style approach to the dozens of troubled teenagers she befriended and welcomed into her home.
"When you deal with people who are kind of on the fringe, you don't go forward like Mrs. Cleaver, Beaver's mom, and say, `That would be wrong. You mustn't do it. You must give up this life of crime,' " Chez said.
"She tried to be as close as she could to these kids without alienating them, and if you're too much of a square, you'd alienate them a lot."
Two teens she spent time with, James Roger Elstad and Joseph Richard Brown, pleaded guilty to murdering Iturra, who was shot in the head as he slept. Elstad is serving a 16-year prison sentence and Brown is serving 10 years.
Thompson knew Iturra well and once invited him to stay with her and her husband. But when Iturra was scheduled to testify against Thompson's son, Beau Flynn, in an assault case, authorities say Thompson pushed Elstad and Brown to kill him.
Elstad and Brown are scheduled to testify at Thompson's trial, along with other young gang members Thompson knew.
Some witnesses will testify they heard Thompson make statements suggesting she wanted Iturra dead and that Thompson used threats to try to keep her son out of trouble, court documents indicate.
Police also have taped telephone conversations made to and from Thompson's home from Jan. 15, 1995, until her arrest. The calls involved young people in her house who police said were members of a gang calling itself the 74 Hoover Crips.
Chez said the tapes are irrelevant and open to interpretation.
"There's no smoking gun," Chez said. "When you listen to someone else's conversation, you can draw a lot of different conclusions."