King beating case likely to go to jury this week

April 05, 1993|By The Christian Science Monitor

LOS ANGELES -- Barring a major surprise, the trial of four police officers charged in the beating of motorist Rodney King will go to the jury this week, possibly as early as Wednesday, legal experts say.

With the end of the case looming, authorities are hastening to head off a possible repeat of the rioting that came after a not-guilty verdict in the state trial of the police officers in 1992.

In the current trial, prosecutors today begin their last opportunity to rebut 13 days of defense testimony, which ended abruptly Thursday. Rebuttal proceedings should take one or two days, most experts say, followed by one to two days of closing arguments by both sides.

"This case will be in the jury's hands by Friday at the latest," says Robert Pugsley, a professor of law at Southwestern University Law School in Los Angeles. Although the prosecution has submitted a list of 14 additional witnesses, observers predict most will not be called. "At this point, both sides have made their points and feel that less is more," Mr. Pugsley says.

The four are charged with violating Mr. King's civil rights when they arrested him March 3, 1991. A conviction would require the agreement of all 12 jurors. The defendants face up to 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

The key issue of the trial's closing days is a videotape of Officer Theodore J. Briseno's testimony during last year's state trial in which he testified against his co-defendants. U.S. District Judge John Davies ruled some of the Briseno tape admissible, then ordered the opposing lawyers to meet and thrash out which portions may be shown to jurors. Defense attorneys have asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to block the showing of the tape.

"The whole arc of the defense argument has been to show that these officers were acting as they were trained and therefore what they did was not unreasonable," says Professor Laurie Levenson of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. "This tape challenges that assertion."

Beyond using the Briseno tape, prosecutors have not commented on their strategy. But several news reports claim that James Fyfe, a nationally known police-tactics expert and longtime critic of the Los Angeles Police Department, will appear at the trial. Mr. Fyfe is expected to counter the defense's main use-of-force expert, Sgt. Charles Duke Jr., who testified that every blow against Mr. King was "reasonable and necessary" to subdue him.

Most lawyers watching the trial said the defense lawyers made the right move by resting their case Thursday. The trial had been moving their way for several days, experts say.

The defense's momentum culminated with the testimony of Sgt. Stacey C. Koon, who supervised the arrest of Mr. King.

"Stacey Koon makes or breaks this case," said Michael Stone, lawyer for Officer Laurence Powell. "If the jury believes Stacey Koon, we all walk. If the jury doesn't believe Stacey Koon, we're all in trouble."

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