In a decision hailed by defense attorneys, a judge ruled Monday the Jewish Defense League must not be mentioned at the trial of three JDL associates charged in a fatal 1980 mail bombing in Manhattan Beach.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian was made at the request of two of the accused, Rochelle Manning, an Israeli citizen, and William Ross, a millionaire Hawthorne real estate broker. The third defendant, Robert Manning, a fugitive from the United States, is in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Federal prosecutors say that Ross enlisted the Mannings, a couple he met in the JDL in Los Angeles in 1971, to send a bomb to Brenda Crouthamel, a Manhattan Beach entrepreneur he was battling in a business dispute. Crouthamel's secretary, Patricia Wilkerson, 35, died shortly after she opened the package containing the bomb.
Tevrizian ruled that any reference to the militant organization would be "highly prejudicial" because prosecutors have not said there is a political motive in the case.
The judge also prohibited testimony by a government informant who said that Ross described his business rival and alleged target as a "Nazi." Over strong government objections, Tevrizian ruled that the statement was too inflammatory for a jury to hear. Prosecutor Nancy Stock called it "a critical part of the case."
Robert Manning's prior criminal conviction for placing an incendiary device at the home of two Los Angeles Arabs in 1972 also played a role in the pretrial hearing Monday.
"You've almost convicted him just by asking that question--'tell us about your prior bombing activities,' " Tevrizian said in barring any mention of the criminal record at the trial.
U.S. authorities are seeking to force Manning's return for trial. He has been described as a follower of militant Israeli nationalist Meir Kahane, and was known to colleagues in the JDL chapter in Los Angeles 15 years ago as an enforcer willing to use violence to accomplish his political goals.
Federal authorities have named both Mannings as prime suspects in the 1985 bombing death in Santa Ana of Alex Odeh, an Arab rights activist who, the night before his death, called Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yassir Arafat a "man of peace."
Wilkerson died July 17, 1980, in a powerful bomb blast at now-defunct ProWest Computer Corp., in Manhattan Beach. Federal authorities said it was not until January and March of this year that they positively identified Rochelle Manning's fingerprint on a letter accompanying the bomb, and Robert Manning's print on the package containing the disguised explosive device.