John Ball would probably be alive today if it hadn't been for a girl - not his, but his brother's former girlfriend.

This week, three men charged with murder, a first-degree felony, pleaded guilty in 3rd District Court to reduced charges in connection with Ball's death. A fourth man charged similarly is also expected to plead guilty to lesser charges this month.The genesis of the sometimes complicated tale began when the girl in question broke up with Ball's 15-year-old brother and began dating Gary Travis Gardner, who was 17 when Ball, also 17, was beaten with a bat and a tire iron Oct. 9, said Deputy District Attorney Vincent Meister.

The girl's new relationship began to cause tension between Gardner's gang-affiliated friends and Ball's cowboy-type group. Apparently, there was only one way to settle the score.

"They agreed to fight," Meister said.

An "intermediary" arranged a "fist-fight" between the two groups at the parking lot of Woodrow Wilson Elementary, 2825 S. 200 East. But while Ball, a male friend and two female friends waited for reinforcements, Gardner, now 18, David Richard Jaramillo, 20, James Kendrick, 18, and Terrill Damone Davis, 18, pulled out a metal bat and a tire iron, Meister said.

Ball and his friend tried to match their opponents by using their metal belt buckles, but "they basically had a leather belt against a bat and tire iron," Meister said.

Witnesses told prosecutors that Kendrick hit Ball over the head several times, and that Jaramillo struck him on the head at least once with the tire iron, Meister said. Ball's friend sustained minor injuries, and the girls were not involved in the fight.

Neither Ball's brother nor his ex-girlfriend were at the scene.

Gardner, Jaramillo, Kendrick and Davis were charged with murder, a first-degree felony, after Ball died Dec. 26. An autopsy revealed Ball had injuries to the head due to blunt force trauma.

Meister said prosecutors agreed to the plea bargains after learning through witnesses that the fight had been arranged and that both sides had agreed to fight.

Monday, Kendrick pleaded guilty to Manslaughter, a second-degree felony. Two days later, Gardner, who apparently instigated the fight, also pleaded guilty to manslaughter, a second-degree felony. The same day, Jaramillo pleaded guilty to criminal homicide by assault, a 3rd Degree felony. Jaramillo also faces gang and weapon enhancements.

All three men are scheduled for sentencing Sept. 28.