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Trial Stemmed From Fatal Beating of Asian-American : Man Acquitted of Rights Charge in Death

May 02, 1987|Associated Press

CINCINNATI — A Detroit auto worker was found not guilty Friday of federal civil rights charges stemming from the 1982 beating death of a Chinese-American man.

In a case that was closely watched by Asian-American groups, a federal jury acquitted Ronald Ebens of civil rights charges in the baseball bat beating death of Vincent Chin.

Ebens already had been convicted in Detroit on manslaughter charges in the slaying of Chin, 27.

Court Ordered New Trial

Ebens later was convicted of violating Chin's civil rights, but a federal appeals court threw out the conviction and ordered a new trial, citing errors in the first trial. The second trial was moved to Cincinnati because of extensive publicity in Detroit.

"I'm still very sorry about the death that occurred, but I'm very relieved it is over after four years," said Ebens, 47, who, with his wife, Juanita, broke into tears at the verdict.

The verdict was criticized immediately by Asian-American representatives.

'Shed a Tear Today'

"My heart sank 30 feet," said James Shimoura of American Citizens for Justice in Detroit. "I fully expected a guilty verdict. I think every Asian-American shed a tear today because of this verdict."

In closing arguments Thursday, the prosecution said Ebens blamed Asians for problems in the U.S. auto industry and beat Chin because of his race. The defense admitted that Ebens killed Chin, but said Ebens was drunk and had been provoked.

Deliberated Four Hours

Jurors deliberated about four hours Thursday and 6 1/2 hours Friday before announcing the verdict.

After the verdict, defense attorney Frank Eamons said: "We said all along this case was a frame-up. This was never a civil rights case, and he got a fair trail."

Floyd Clardy, the federal prosecutor, said only: "We're disappointed. We accept the verdict of the jury."

Testimony during the trial indicated that Ebens and Chin met June 19, 1982, at a lounge in Detroit, where Chin was having a bachelor party. Witnesses said the men argued in the bar.

Ebens then beat Chin with a baseball bat outside the tavern, killing him.

Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz, pleaded guilty in Michigan state court to manslaughter charges. Each was sentenced to three years of probation and fined $3,700 by Wayne County Circuit Judge Charles Kaufman. The sentences prompted an outcry by Asian-American and civil rights groups.

A federal grand jury later indicted Ebens and Nitz on charges of violating Chin's civil rights, alleging the death was racially motivated. Ebens was convicted in 1984, and Nitz was acquitted.

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