Jury begins deliberating in King case 6,500 L.A. police patrol uneasy city

April 11, 1993|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES -- They are identified by numbers not names %% Eight are men, four are women. Nine are white, two are black and one is Hispanic. %%

%% Among them is a Danish army veteran, an ex-Marine, a postal worker and a housewife.

This is the jury that began deliberations yesterday on the fate of ++ four white police officers on trial in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney G. King.

The six-week criminal trial ground down with an extraordinary Saturday session.

A defense attorney and a prosecutor engaged in one last flurry of point-counterpoint arguments.

U.S. District Judge John Davies then delivered final instructions to the jurors, telling them that to convict the officers they would have to find that the policemen used excessive force.

Judgment on the use of force must be made "from the perspective of a reasonable officer under the same circumstances, rather than with the perspective of perfect hindsight," the judge told the jury.

". . . You may consider the fact that police officers are often forced to make judgments in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving, about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation. But it is for you to decide if such circumstances existed in this case."

On the question of intent, the judge said, "In assessing whether a defendant charged . . . had specific intent to use unreasonable force, you should consider all of the circumstances of the incident. Some of these circumstances include the character and duration of the incident, the training and experience of the officers and other similar relevant factors."

The proceedings took place with the backdrop of a city nervously anticipating the trial's outcome, with 6,500 city police officers on street duty. About 600 National Guard troops are due to arrive at their armories tomorrow , with thousands more on standby.

"Sometimes, I wondered, 'is this a trial or a mental institution?,' " said Harland Braun, an attorney for Theodore J. Briseno, one of the four Los Angeles police officers accused of violating Mr. King's civil rights.

Officer Briseno, Officer Laurence M. Powell and former Officer Timothy E. Wind are accused of stomping, kicking and striking Mr. King on March 3, 1991, violating his Fourth-Amendment right to be safe from the use of unreasonable force during an arrest.

A fourth defendant, Sgt. Stacey C. Koon, did not strike Mr. King, but he was the senior officer at the beating and is accused of violating Mr. King's 14th Amendment right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law.

If convicted, the four men face maximum prison terms of 10 years and fines of $250,000.

Their acquittals on all but one minor charge in a state trial last April 29 ignited the nation's worst urban riots this century, leaving 53 people dead.

Mr. Braun touched on those riots in his 90-minute closing argument, in which he mentioned the Persian Gulf war, instability in the Balkans and the civil rights movement.

In an allusion to Easter, he also likened the present trial to the trial of Christ, when Pontius Pilate passed judgment after hearing the roar of a mob.

"You are here to bear witness to the truth," Mr. Braun told the jury. "What the trial is about is whether a jury under this pressure has the courage to be faithful to its oath, to stand up to the waffling politicians. Don't worry about your fellow Americans. They will understand there are 12 people in Los Angeles who have the courage to bear witness to the truth and return verdicts of not guilty."

Mr. Braun said that the prosecutors and Mr. King added "the race card," charging the case with powerful emotions.

"Mr. King was not an evil man," he said. "He may be dangerous, but not with malice in his heart. He did some stupid things. But the dumbest thing he did, the saddest thing he did, is that he charged publicly it was a racist incident."

"What evil did my client do," Mr. Braun added. "What evil did any of these men do?"

Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Kowalski pounded away at the theme that the beating was unjustified, and implored the jury to find the officers guilty.

During a two-hour rebuttal, he laid out the government's case against the four officers, that they willfully used unreasonable force the night they arrested Mr. King after he led them on a high-speed auto chase.

"It's very diplomatic what they're saying," he said. "They're saying civilians can't judge what police officers do. If that's so, that's a police state, not America. They're suggesting you're not competent to sit in judgment of police officers."

Mr. Kowalski told the jury, "You will decide what conduct is acceptable and what conduct is against the law. There is no middle ground. You have to decide whether the officers failed to use enough force . . . or was it a beating that continued long after Mr. King was a beaten man."

And then, Mr. Kowalski replayed the final 50 seconds of the videotaped beating. For six weeks in this trial, the tape has been analyzed, discussed and broken down frame-by-frame. And before that, it was broadcast world-wide by satellite.

Yesterday, the tape ran uninterrupted in a hushed courtroom.

"They were bullies with badges, who beat and kicked a man who was down and beaten, and they did it until he begged for them to stop," Mr. Kowalski said. "There are some countries where people can be beaten by the police until they beg the police to stop. But not in this country. Not now. Not 200 years ago, when this Constitution was written."

The sequestered jury is expected to continue their deliberations today after attending an Easter service under the watchful eyes of federal marshals.

%%

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