Defense doesn't call L.A. officer

April 01, 1993|By New York Times News Service

LOS ANGELES -- The federal civil rights trial of the four officers charged in the beating of Rodney G. King took a surprising turn yesterday when the lawyer for the officer who rained the most baton blows on Mr. King rested without calling his client to testify.

The move stunned the trial's participants and observers, who had long been told that the officer, Laurence M. Powell, would testify in his own defense.

Officer Powell's lawyer, Michael P. Stone, said as early as last summer, when his client was indicted by a federal grand jury, that the officer would testify, and the defendant himself had long expressed a desire to tell his side of the story.

With Mr. Stone still in court late yesterday, there was no immediate explanation for the unexpected turn of events.

Officer Powell did testify in the four defendants' trial on state assault charges last year. The jury in that trial acquitted him and the three others of 11 of 12 charges and deadlocked on one excessive-force count against him.

Of the four defendants, Officer Powell appears to have the most at stake in the trial now under way because he is seen delivering nTC the most blows on Mr. King in a widely broadcast videotape of the beating, which occurred on March 3, 1991, after a police chase.

Prosecutors contend that Officer Powell clubbed Mr. King at least three times in the head, in apparent violation of Los Angeles Police Department policy. And the jurors have also heard evidence that, after the beating, he sent a computer message to another officer in which he said, "Oops. . . . I haven't beaten anyone this bad in a long time."

The unexpected turn in Officer Powell's case came on a day when an expert witness for him restated a defense argument that proved persuasive in the state assault trial: that virtually all of Mr. King's head injuries resulted from his fall to the ground and not, as government prosecutors contend, from blows by a baton.

That testimony went to the heart of the debate over whether excessive force was deliberately used in the beating of Mr. King on March 3, 1991.

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