Trying to explain a puzzling verdict

WILEY A. HALL 3rd

April 30, 1992|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

Some observers say the jury in the Rodney King case saw the videotape of his beating at the hands of police more than a 100 times during the trial.

They saw it in real time and in slow motion, normal-sized and magnified. Then they saw it all over again, still shots, frame by frame by frame.

Experts counted every blow and made careful notations of where each blow fell.

King's motions during this savage assault were charted, analyzed and debated.

So, maybe the jurors just got bored.

After all, we see worse atrocities every day in the movies -- and the blood there at least is filmed in color.

(Bear with me, I'm trying to understand what happened here, how a jury of reputedly sane human beings could have voted yesterday to acquit the four men charged with the assault.)

So I'm thinking that maybe the jurors stopped caring about poor Rodney King, who was struck, kicked or clubbed some 56 times by four police officers and may have permanent brain and facial injuries.

Let's say boredom began to set in, oh, at about the third showing. By the 20th repetition, each juror probably despised King for getting himself in that mess, despised him for making a spectacle of himself.

This happens -- people become desensitized to pain, especially other people's pain.

After all, King, 26, is an ex-convict, unemployed and single.

The officers who assaulted him were family men with clean records who wore suits and ties in court.

Maybe the jury felt these fine, upstanding citizens had suffered enough. King got nothing more painful than a broken skull, which can be mended with aspirin and some tape.

These men faced irreparable damage to their good names.

Or maybe the jury was swayed by the officers' defense.

Caught red-handed on videotape, the officers never denied that they had assaulted King. They argued instead that King deserved the whipping he got.

The officers said King acted "bizarre" after they stopped him for speeding. His eyes were watery, he swayed a bit, he was slow to obey their commands to lie down.

They said that when he got out of his car after leading police on an eight-mile, high-speed chase, King had the effrontery to look up at a circling helicopter and laugh.

Each of the jurors are taxpayers and this is a very tight economy. Helicopters cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Maybe they were of the opinion that anyone who laughed at such expensive equipment deserved a beating.

And we mustn't overlook the possibility that the jurors had a good sense of humor.

After the beating, according to testimony, the officers involved whooped it up at their victim's expense.

King was compared to reptiles, other animals and a baseball.

The officers complimented each other on their club-wielding technique.

In the hospital emergency room, one officer asked King if he felt up to another round.

Could you -- could anyone -- punish men who so enjoy their work?

Then, there is what I call the "message" theory.

In this, our communications age, it seems as though everyone is trying to send someone else a message.

In this case, the jurors were all residents of Simi Valley, an affluent residential community outside Los Angeles.

Everyday, I bet, these suburbanites pick up their newspapers and read about incidents of violent crime in L.A.

They must be constantly appalled.

And so, they may have decided that the time had come to send a message to the grass roots: We will no longer tolerate crime in our newspapers.

If you speed, if you act suspicious, and if your eyes water, the consequences will be severe.

Finally, some people have mentioned race as a factor in the verdict.

That's a possibility.

King is black. The four officers are white. The jury was made up of 10 whites, a Hispanic and a Filipino-American.

But we must remember that the Constitution guarantees defendants trial before a jury of their peers.

Nowhere does it say that a victim's peers must be on the jury as well. Some say the prosecutor went to heroic lengths to insure the defendants a trial by their peers, not King's.

Of course, we can only conjecture about the jury's motivations.

Late yesterday, the forewoman of the jury asked everyone to understand that sitting on such a case had not been easy.

I'm glad she put this in the proper perspective for us. I suppose the jury must have gone through quite an ordeal, indeed.

It can't be easy watching another man brutalized again and again by the supposed forces of law and order.

Even if you don't give a damn.

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