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Charges Dismissed Against 2 Employees of TV Preacher Scott

July 04, 1985|THERESA WALKER and ALEX NEILL | Times Staff Writers

The presiding judge Wednesday dismissed assault and battery charges against two employees of Glendale television preacher W. Eugene Scott after jurors had declared themselves deadlocked.

Judge Barbara Lee Burke said there was no reason to expect a different outcome if the case were retried.

After deliberating 10 hours last week, the Glendale Municipal Court jury agreed to acquit Joseph Shackelford and Larry Dudley on one of two misdemeanor charges but deadlocked on the second.

Shackelford and Dudley, who work in the television studio at the Wescott Christian Center in downtown Glendale, were accused of beating Donald Vladimir Nicoloff, a 33-year-old North Hollywood musician who performed on the Rev. Scott's show.

Trial Drew Attention

Nicoloff suffered cuts and bruises and a temporary loss of vision in his right eye in the April 30 incident that he claimed began with a dispute over pay.

Because of the connection to Scott, the trial attracted considerable attention.

The presence of a film crew from Scott's University Network, which videotaped the proceedings, became an issue when Deputy Dist. Atty. Herb Lapin objected to having a camera in the courtroom for fear that prosecution witnesses might be left open to reprisals by Scott's followers.

Burke, however, ruled that the camera could stay.

Lapin, who prosecuted the case, had asked that Shackelford, 31, and Dudley, 36, be tried again, although he said he knew the chance of getting a new trial was slim. Lapin had said he wanted the testimony of an alleged witness, Ron Spann, the former head musician at the center. Spann left California in May and did not return when subpoenaed.

Before the case was dismissed, Lapin had told the judge Wednesday that, if he did not have Spann in court by July 17, he would ask that the case be dismissed.

Witness' Importance

Outside court last week, Lapin said: "This case would never have been filed if we did not have the testimony of Ron Spann."

In statements to police, Spann reportedly said that the defendants attacked Nicoloff without provocation, shoving him into a plate-glass window and beating and kicking him as he lay on the ground.

Defense attorney Edward L. Masry contended that Spann's testimony would "not make one iota of difference" because "the prosecution's assertions concerning Ron Spann are ludicrous."

Jurors in the 11-day trial found Shackelford and Dudley, both of Pasadena, innocent of committing battery with use and force of violence resulting in serious bodily injury, but came back with split decisions on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon--hands and feet.

Jurors voted 9-3 in favor of acquitting Shackelford and 8-4 in favor of acquitting Dudley on the assault charge. The panel had been instructed that a vote could be taken on a lesser count of assault and battery if they did not find the defendants guilty of the more serious charge. But the jury split 6-6 and 5-7 on the lesser count.

Third Charge Dropped

A third misdemeanor charge of malicious mischief was dropped during the trial.

Lapin could not introduce as evidence statements Spann made to police because it would have been hearsay. Jurors, however, knew Spann was there because of the testimony of Nicoloff and the defendants.

According to Lapin, Spann fled to Tennessee because he feared reprisal from Scott's followers. Masry and co-defense attorney Gerald F. Uelmen claim that Spann fled because he feared the psychic powers Nicoloff claims to possess.

Nicoloff testified that he was not paid after performing in Scott's band for a week and that he went to speak with Shackelford, who he said promised him a contract. Nicoloff conceded that he made some unflattering statements about being used by Scott and left the center accompanied by Spann and, he said, followed by Shackelford and Dudley.

Defendants' Testimony

The defendants, however, testified that it was Nicoloff who took the first swing and that they tried to hold his arms down. They testified that Nicoloff was not shoved into the plate-glass window, but rather that the window broke when Dudley struck it with his elbow during the scuffle.

Shackelford disputed Nicoloff's claim that the center owed him back wages, testifying that there had never been a final agreement over Nicoloff's pay. He also said that he and Dudley had left the center, not in search of Nicoloff, but looking for Spann to finish a sound check for Scott's television appearance that night.

The courtroom was packed every day with Scott's followers, who spilled out into the hall, huddling around a television monitor showing University Network's camera feed. The proceedings have not been broadcast, a spokesman for University said.

Effort to Ban Camera

In the attempt to ban the camera from the courtroom, Lapin and a Glendale deputy city attorney claimed that it would intimidate witnesses and could lead to threats against Glendale police officers called to testify.

The Glendale Police Department and Wescott Christian Center have clashed in the past and police claimed that they had been threatened by Scott's followers as a result.

Only one witness, Dr. Svetlana Vaisman, a physician who examined Nicoloff a few days after the incident, refused to testify because of the camera. Vaisman, a Russian emigre who said she did not want to appear on television out of fear for family members living in the Soviet Union, was excused by Judge Burke.

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