Prosecutor seeks retrial of officer in King beating Judge must decide on motion by state

May 14, 1992|By Penelope McMillan and Sheryl Stolberg | Penelope McMillan and Sheryl Stolberg,Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- Prosecutors will seek a retrial of Officer Laurence M. Powell, the only one of four Los Angeles police officers who failed to win a Ventura County jury's total exoneration in the beating of motorist Rodney G. King.

Declaring that "justice was not done in the Rodney King case," Los Angeles County District Attorney Ira Reiner said yesterday that prosecutors would make the request tomorrow before Superior Court Judge Stanley Weisberg.

Judge Weisberg declared a mistrial April 29 after a Ventura County jury deadlocked on one count of assault under color of authority against Officer Powell.

Judge Weisberg must now decide whether to grant the second trial.

Both in his announcement at a packed news conference and in a subsequent interview, Mr. Reiner suggested that he took into account the riots spawned by the not-guilty verdicts in the King case.

"There are many people that feel that to retry Laurence Powell on this one count would be to reopen some very painful wounds," Mr. Reiner said. "I understand that, and I appreciate that. But my responsibility as the district attorney is clear. That is that healing begins with justice, and justice simply was not done in the Rodney King case."

Although the jury hung 8-4 in favor of acquitting Officer Powell, Mr. Reiner said his prosecutors believe that the evidence against him -- primarily the videotape of the beating -- is so compelling that he felt bound to press ahead.

Mr. Powell's attorney, Michael Stone, could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Reiner made the announcement in response to questions at a from 1Anews conference he called to discuss criminal charges being filed against four South Los Angeles men in connection with the beating of truck driver Reginald O. Denny, whose assault became a symbol of the riots.

Mr. Reiner said that although he did not make a final decision until Tuesday afternoon during a three-hour meeting with his deputies, he had been leaning toward seeking a retrial since the verdicts were returned.

Mr. Reiner's move brought immediate praise from leaders in the black community. King's civil rights.

John Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, termed the decision "appropriate, an opportunity to try again to bring at least partial justice to a grievous wrong." As to reopening wounds, Mr. Mack said: "Nothing's been healed yet. The wounds are a wide-open ugly sore of a gross miscarriage of justice."

For Mr. Reiner, the decision to retry Officer Powell has political as well as legal implications. The district attorney faces a tough primary election June 2, and he has been criticized by his opponents for his office's failure to win convictions against Officer Powell and the other defendants, Sgt. Stacey C. Koon, Theodore J. Briseno and Timothy E. Wind.

Mr. Reiner -- who was intimately involved in the trial strategy -- has been criticized for his failure to put Mr. King on the witness stand. He would not discuss yesterday whether his strategy regarding Mr. King would change, saying: "That is not a decision to be made at this time."

However, Mr. Reiner did say that the prosecutors who handled the first trial, Deputy District Attorneys Terry White and Alan Yochelson, would remain on the case if a retrial is granted. And he said prosecutors would insist that a retrial be held in an urban county that reflects the ethnic makeup of Los Angeles.

Said prominent black attorney Johnnie Cochran: "If there is a change in venue, I hope they will push for an appropriate county demographically. It's the height of naivete that this case can leave Los Angeles County, go to someplace where there are very few minorities, no blacks, and get a fair trial."

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