Police officer fails to take stand in L.A. A surprise at civil rights trial

April 01, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- Laurence M. Powell, the Los Angeles police officer who delivered the majority of baton blows against black motorist Rodney G. King, rested his case without taking the witness stand, a surprise development that rocked the civil rights trial of the officers.

Officer Powell's lawyer, Michael P. Stone, has said for weeks that Officer Powell would take the stand in his own defense and announced as late as Tuesday that Officer Powell would be a witness. But lawyers for the other officers have expressed misgivings about Officer Powell's testifying, and during a meeting Tuesday the attorneys agreed that, despite Officer Powell's strong desire to testify, he should not take the stand.

The four officers are being tried on federal charges of violating Mr. King's civil rights for beating him after a high-speed car chase March 3, 1991 -- an event captured on videotape and broadcast around the world. Their acquittal last April on state charges of assaulting Mr. King triggered the Los Angeles riots.

Officer Powell said afterward that he and Mr. Stone have discussed the issue for months and did not reach a final decision until early yesterday. In fact, Officer Powell said he was studying with a drama coach late Tuesday, going over videotapes of his testimony during last year's state trial and talking about how to improve it this time.

"It's always a roll of the dice when your client decides not to testify," Mr. Stone said outside of court. "But this is all a gamble. I'd rather not be at the gambling table, but we're here."

The decision not to call Officer Powell also strongly increases the likelihood that neither Timothy E. Wind nor Theodore J. Briseno will testify, meaning that the trial, which had been expected to last well into April, could be sent to the jury next week.

Officer Powell's last-minute decision reflects at least two important defense considerations: That putting Officer Powell on the stand would subject him to difficult cross-examination, and that the testimony of Sgt. Stacey C. Koon may be enough to

speak for all four of the officers.

Sergeant Koon spent three powerful days on the stand, and he took responsibility for every baton blow and kick that Mr. King received.

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