King's injuries said to come from fall Called too simple for baton whacks

March 31, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

LOS ANGELES -- Officer Laurence Powell's lawyer has brought on his medical experts in a bid to convince jurors that a fall, and not his client's nightstick, was the cause of Rodney King's head injuries.

Officer Powell, 30, who is expected to testify today, is now the focus of the federal trial of three Los Angeles police officers and one former officer. They are accused of violating Mr. King's civil rights in the March 3, 1991, beating during a traffic arrest.

Officer Powell landed the first baton blows on Mr. King and was responsible for delivering 45 of the 56 blows shown on a videotape of the beating. Most were delivered while Mr. King was on the ground.

Yesterday, defense witness Carley Ward, a biomechanical engineer, testified that had Officer Powell hit Mr. King in the head with his baton, which she said he swung in tests with 2,000 pounds of force, Mr. King's injuries would have been far worse than they were.

Much of the prosecution's attempt to prove the beating was intentional focuses on Officer Powell's actions that night. Prosecutors contend that Officer Powell hit Mr. King in the head several times after knocking him to the ground when Mr. King, recovering from a stun-gun jolt, bolted toward him.

California Highway Patrol Officer Melanie Singer earlier gave jurors a sometimes tearful, emotion-charged account of baton blows delivered to Mr. King's head by Officer Powell -- blows he denies landing.

Officer Powell's lawyer, Michael Stone, is attempting to control the damage by convincing jurors that Mr. King's head wounds, a shattered eye socket and broken cheekbone, were caused by an unbroken fall to the ground after he was stunned by an electric Taser gun.

"Head blows with a baton are deadly force, the same as using a gun. If a jury believes Powell intentionally landed head blows, it could move them to convict," said Dan Caplis, a Denver trial lawyer and legal correspondent for several NBC affiliate stations.

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