L.A. police officers face sentencing

August 01, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- Officer Laurence M. Powell and Sgt. Stacey C. Koon will appear this week in a federal courtroom, emerging from their relative obscurity of recent weeks to stand before the judge and receive what most experts believe is inevitable: a federal prison sentence.

It will be a monumental day in the lives of those two Los Angeles police officers, who have fought first state and then federal charges in their two-year effort to vindicate their actions during the beating of a black motorist, Rodney G. King.

But it will be an equally climactic day for the city itself. No criminal case has ever captivated Los Angeles city more completely or shaken it more violently.

Although appeals could drag on for years, it is clear that on Wednesday, in Judge John G. Davies' courtroom, Los Angeles finally will turn the page on one of the most tumultuous chapters in its history.

On that morning, with supporters and detractors of the officers scrutinizing the system, Judge Davies will be called upon to decide how much prison time, if any, the police officers should serve for their convictions of violating Mr. King's civil rights during a March, 3, 1991, traffic stop, an incident that was videotaped by a bystander and broadcast around the world.

The defendants and their lawyers will argue three separate but related legal issues: first, that they deserve a new trial; failing that, that they should receive probation or very short prison sentences; and finally, if Judge Davies elects to sentence them to prison, that they should be allowed to remain free on bail while they pursue their appeals.

Prosecutors take a very different view of all three subjects. In a series of legal briefs, they have asked Judge Davies to deny the motions for a new trial, sentence Powell to at least seven years in prison and Koon to at least nine and then take both men into custody immediately.

Prosecutors also want the judge to fine Koon and Powell $15,000 to $150,000 each and to order them to pay restitution to Mr. King, who has told the court that his medical bills come to roughly $189,000.

With prosecutors and defense lawyers staking out radically different positions, Judge Davies -- a generally tough sentencer but one who has shown a willingness to consider a range of factors in imposing punishments -- will be on the spot. If he gives short sentences, foes of the officers would almost certainly protest and prosecutors could appeal; if he imposes long ones, the officers and their lawyers have vowed to challenge the judge in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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