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Lawyer Says Penn Was Trapped by Web of Police Lies

June 09, 1987|JIM SCHACHTER | Times Staff Writer

San Diego police--and witnesses sympathetic to them--wove a web of lies to ensnare Sagon Penn and to hide the racism that gave rise to Penn's lethal encounter with two officers and a civilian on an Encanto driveway, a defense lawyer charged Monday as he pleaded for Penn's exoneration.

Quoting from the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, defense attorney Milton J. Silverman told jurors that the dream of a colorblind society would be damaged if they convicted Penn in the March 31, 1985, shootings.

"That dream does not live," Silverman declared, "in a city that will tolerate a man in uniform sitting on top of another man, beating his face, saying, 'You think you're bad, nigger? I'm gonna beat your black ass!' "

Emotional Conclusion

Emotionally concluding a three-day argument in a retrial that has lasted almost three months, Silverman said one last time that the racism of Police Agent Donovan Jacobs instigated the confrontation that left Police Agent Thomas Riggs dead, Jacobs and civilian ride-along Sarah Pina-Ruiz wounded, and Penn facing five felony charges.

"This thing was sparked, caused, created by racial prejudice, wasn't it?" he asked the jury in San Diego County Superior Court. "They may try to cover it, to throw dirt on it, to make it hide, but it won't do that. Because the truth has a force of its own."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Carpenter--who by court rules has the last word in the case--said as he began his final rebuttal that it was Silverman who had hurled dirt in Judge J. Morgan Lester's courtroom. The facts and the law favor the prosecution's case, Carpenter contended, leaving Silverman to employ personal attacks and emotional appeals.

"The defense was based on throwing mud at Donovan Jacobs, hoping some would stick," Carpenter said. "It was based on trying to impeach the testimony of Sarah Pina-Ruiz."

But he encouraged the jury to look past the distractions he said Silverman had created. "Clearly," Carpenter argued, "your task is to determine how guilty Mr. Penn is."

As court recessed, Lester said deliberations in the case are likely to begin sometime today, after he reads the jurors an inch-thick packet of legal instructions. Earlier, as they had since final arguments began last week, each lawyer used his time Monday to impress his version of the events and testimony on the jury and to belittle the opposition's claims.

The bulk of the day belonged to Silverman. Sometimes mockingly, sometimes solemnly, he led the jurors through what he insisted were the lies, deceptions and misleading silences on which the prosecution's case was based.

Focus on Jacobs

The lies, he said, began with Jacobs. Though medical witnesses testified that Jacobs' injuries may have left him confused about the details of the confrontation with Penn, Silverman contended that Jacobs deliberately contrived a false account to cover up his knowledge that he had used excessive force on Penn.

Silverman noted that Jacobs has claimed that he stopped Penn's truck after seeing it make an illegal U-turn, while even the prosecution has conceded there was no U-turn. Jacobs, moreover, testified that it was Riggs who first began tussling with Penn--an assertion universally rejected by eyewitnesses, who testified that the confrontation was initially between Jacobs and Penn.

According to Silverman, Jacobs invented both misstatements to provide legal justification for the encounter.

"Why did he say it?" Silverman asked. "Because he knew he was wrong. He knew he grabbed Penn. He knew he lost his temper. He knew he punched Penn. He knew he pulled his club out and started swinging it at Penn's head."

Pina-Ruiz--who watched the confrontation from the passenger seat of Riggs' cruiser--was enlisted in the campaign of deceit, Silverman argued.

Her initial description of the events was largely in harmony with that of the eyewitnesses who testified for the defense, he said. But after police had taken Jacobs' contradictory statements, Silverman charged, Pina-Ruiz's account began to evolve, becoming supportive of Jacobs' story.

Pina-Ruiz testified that the changes resulted from her reflection on her earlier statements. But Silverman was dubious. "There may be another explanation for why that testimony changed," he said. "And that explanation may be because it didn't fit with what Donovan Jacobs said."

Taped Conversation

Silverman--dissolving at times into laughter at what he considered the absurdity of the prosecution's evidence--said Pina-Ruiz lied further in an attempt to explain away the testimony of Carolyn Cherry, a Navy housing office employee who secretly recorded a conversation with Pina-Ruiz after the shootings.

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