Courts & Crime

Dad faces life in prison for tattooing 8-year-old son

An 8-year-old boy calmly told a Fresno County Superior Court jury Tuesday that he didn't ask for a gang tattoo and didn't want it, but his father forced him to get one during Easter break 2009.

"It was my dad's idea," the boy said of the quarter-sized tattoo of a dog paw on his right hip. A dog paw is the symbol of the Bulldogs street gang.

"I didn't want it and I cried," he said.

His testimony was a dramatic beginning in the criminal trial of two Fresno gang members who are accused of inking the gang tattoo on the boy when he was 7.

To cap his testimony, the boy pulled down his three-quarter-length pants just enough to show the jury the tattoo.

"It hurts," he said, describing the experience. "It hurts a lot."

On trial are the boy's father, Enrique Gonzalez, 27, and Travis Gorman, 22. A criminal complaint charges them with willful cruelty to a child and aggravated mayhem. If convicted, they face life in prison.

In opening statements, prosecutor William Lacy said Gonzalez held down his son while Gorman inked the tattoo to promote the criminal street gang.

But defense lawyers Douglas Foster and Manuel Nieto said witnesses will testify that the boy pestered his father and threw a temper tantrum to get the tattoo. Once he got it, the boy barked like a Bulldog gang member and proudly showed the tattoo to relatives, Foster said.

"Little boys want to be like their dads," said Foster, who represents Gonzalez. "Little boys also make up stories," he told the panel of six women and six men.

Gonzalez made a horrible mistake when he let his son have a tattoo, Foster said. "He's not perfect, and he won't be named father of the year," he said.

But Gonzalez loves his son, Foster said, and "wouldn't do anything intentionally to hurt his kid."

Defense lawyers said the trial is really about how Fresno police believed a young boy who made up a story because he feared punishment from his mother.

The boy, a second-grader, grew up in a culture of divorcing parents and relatives who have tattoos and body piercings, the lawyers said. Both Gonzalez and Gorman have several tattoos, including on their neck and face. The boy's mother also has tattoos.

The boy, called to the witness stand by the prosecution, told the jury that his mother's tattoos -- including a fairy and a sun -- are "good ones," while his father's tattoos are "bad ones" because they depict gang life. One of his father's tattoos is a Bulldog wearing a mask, the boy said.

From the witness stand, he calmly pointed out his father and Gorman as the culprits who forced him to get a tattoo in Gorman's garage on April 10, 2009 -- Good Friday. As he testified, Gonzalez stared blankly at him, while some jurors jotted notes.

"My dad held me down on a couch," the boy testified.

He said he struggled and told his father to stop, but Gonzalez didn't reply. "I was crying because it hurt," he said.

To show proof of the struggle, the boy pointed out a tiny mark above his tattoo. "I got that line because I moved," he testified. "It's not supposed to be there."

The tattoo hurt more than getting an ear pierced, the boy said, showing the jury his pierced right ear. He also said the pain was worse than a skateboard injury or a spanking from his mother.

He testified that his father forced him to show the tattoo to relatives.

The boy said he is undergoing a painful procedure to have the tattoo removed. But when he's an adult, he said, he plans to tattoo his mother's name on his body.

The trial is expected to take two weeks. Gorman and Gonzalez plan to testify.

A key issue is whether the act of tattooing a minor rises to the level of aggravated mayhem, which carried a life prison term. Defense lawyers say no. That charge is typically reserved for defendants accused of disfiguring acts such as cutting off a victim's arm or setting someone on fire.

Under California law, tattooing a minor is typically a misdemeanor, punishable by six months in prison, defense lawyers said.

Outside court, Foster and Nieto said they weren't surprised by the boy's testimony.

"When kids get things in their heads, it becomes reality to them," Foster said.

Read the full story at the Fresno Bee.