Unemotional Denny testifies at trial of two men charged in his beating Says he does not remember attack

August 26, 1993|By Knight Ridder Newspapers

LOS ANGELES -- He had just watched the lengthy videotape of his brutal beating at the flash point of last year's riots, then described his injuries in calm tones but excruciating detail: a shattered jaw, collapsed eye socket and permanent softball-sized soft spot on his head.

But as truck driver Reginald Denny left the courtroom yesterday after the first part of his testimony in the trial of two men charged in his beating, he walked over to their mothers and hugged them.

The third day of testimony in the trial of Damian Monroe Williams, 20, and Henry Keith Watson, 28, was loaded with drama.

A Williams family spokesman said outside of court that the defendant's mother was "happy to meet Reginald Denny in person. That was a positive on both sides."

The drama continued with the next witness, a black truck driver who saw the beating on television and rushed to the scene to save Mr. Denny, who is white.

"I jumped up . . . ran out and tried to save that man's life," said Bobby Green, who piloted Mr. Denny's truck away from the chaos to a hospital. "I had to beg him to let me in the truck . . . (He) thought that I was the mob, one of the guys trying to beat him up."

Mr. Watson and Mr. Williams are charged with a series of felonies stemming from the violence at the corner of Florence and Normandie avenues on April 29, 1992.

Other suspects involved in the beating have not been identified, although some are clearly captured on videotapes that were broadcast live and form the centerpiece of the prosecution's case.

The charges against Mr. Watson and Mr. Williams involve eight victims, with the most serious charge being the attempted murder of Mr. Denny.

Both have pleaded not guilty.

Conviction could mean life in prison.

Throughout his testimony yesterday, Mr. Denny appeared unemotional -- even as he watched his videotaped image dragged from the cab of his gravel truck and struck with a hammer.

He remained calm as he saw a man prosecutors say is Mr. Williams hurl an object at his head, a man prosecutors say is Mr. Watson hold him down with a foot during part of the attack and his bloody image writhe on the ground, reaching a hand out desperately for help.

One man on the racially mixed jury shook his head as the tape played in the dead quiet courtroom. Several women brought their hands to their mouths.

But over and over, as Deputy District Attorney Janet Moore showed Mr. Denny pictures of himself under such furious attack, he said he recognized himself but remembered nothing of the attack.

"Is that the condition you were in at Florence and Normandie?" Ms. Moore asked, displaying a close-up of Mr. Denny's blood-covered head.

"I couldn't tell you, but probably," he replied.

Mr. Denny's demeanor, if anything, might be described as amicable -- toward the prosecution, the defense, the jury.

At one point, Ms. Moore asked Mr. Denny to stand near jury members so they could see the dent in his head.

He not only agreed but reached out to a juror and guided her

hand to the soft spot.

The flowing blond hair seen in the videotape now is in a stylish short cut, and Mr. Denny, 37, wears wire-rimmed glasses to correct damage done by the beating.

He was matter-of-fact as he described the day that changed his life and this city's history.

As he approached the Normandie and Florence intersection, traveling a route he used several times a day to avoid freeway hassles, Mr. Denny said he came on a scene that "was just totally wild. I couldn't figure out what was going on."

He hadn't heard about the acquittals in state court that afternoon of four white police officers charged in the Rodney King beating and hadn't heard about the violent reaction.

"There were a lot of things happening very much out of place," he said, describing cars on the wrong side of the road and the dissonant sounds of breaking glass, screeching tires. "It was actually a moment of shock and disbelief."

As he maneuvered his two-trailer truck around a car stopped in a traffic lane, he said, he slowed dramatically to avoid hitting pedestrians with his 80,000-pound truck.

But as he slowed, he said, something shattered the passenger-side window of his cab.

He recalls "just being really startled, almost like gasping a last breath kind of thing . . . It was very unnerving."

From that point on, Mr. Denny said, he remembers nothing until about six days later.

Then, he awoke at Daniel Freeman Hospital, thinking it was the same day he had driven into the madness and still not knowing what that madness had been.

Unable to speak, his first request was for paper and pen to write a note urging that hospital officials notify his employer of his whereabouts. Long before then, he had become a symbol of the riots worldwide.

The Denny case is seen in many circles as a sort of mirror image of the King case.

Most people do not condone the violence inflicted on Mr. Denny.

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