Jury selection began Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court in the trial of former Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon Tom Metzger and three others, seven years after crosses were burned in a predominantly black neighborhood in Lake View Terrace.
Metzger, 52, of Fallbrook, Stanley Witek, 58, Brad Kelly, 29, and Erich Schmidt, 26, are charged with one felony count of conspiracy to violate a municipal fire code and two misdemeanors. If convicted of all charges, the defendants face a maximum possible sentence of 3 1/2 years in prison.
The Dec. 3, 1983, cross burning, which defendants maintained was in honor of a white police officer slain by a black man, was captured on videotape by Peter Lake, a free-lance journalist who had infiltrated the ranks of the white supremacist group.
The videotape depicts 13 members of the KKK and the Aryan Nation Organization draped in orange-and-black hooded robes, setting fire to three 18-foot wooden crosses.
"So long as the alien occupies your land, hate is your law, and revenge is your first duty," one of the men, identified in court papers as Richard Butler, intoned.
Witek tangled with Irv Rubin, national director of the Jewish Defense League, in a shouting match outside court. Witek said he objects to being given a Jewish lawyer and believes that Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner is harassing him.
"Because I don't have the funds for a lawyer, I am stuck with the Jew Barish," he said of his attorney, Herbert Barish.
Barish said outside court, "I have represented people who are communists, black militants, who have raped and murdered. I don't have to adopt my client's viewpoint to represent him."
Earlier this year, a jury in Portland, Ore., awarded $12.5 million to relatives of an Ethiopian immigrant beaten to death by skinheads allegedly incited by Metzger and his son, John.