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Jury Picked for King Trial; No Blacks Chosen

March 03, 1992|RICHARD A. SERRANO and CARLOS V. LOZANO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SIMI VALLEY — Culminating a month of legal maneuvering and probing questions, a jury of seven men and five women--none of them black--was chosen Monday for the trial of four white police officers accused in the beating of black motorist Rodney G. King.

The seating of the jury, on the eve of the first anniversary of the beating, came after 260 Ventura County residents were quizzed about their attitudes toward the Los Angeles Police Department, Chief Daryl F. Gates and allegations of widespread racism and brutality within the Police Department.

Although civil rights groups had expressed concern that moving the trial to predominantly white Ventura County would make it difficult to select a representative jury, prosecutors and defense lawyers said they were satisfied with the selection.

"We were not looking for any particular age group or ethnic group," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Terry White, the lead prosecutor. "I'm just concerned about having a fair and impartial jury. That's all we ever wanted."

Michael Stone, attorney for Officer Laurence M. Powell, said the defense team feels "very positive" about the jury. "We were looking for a neutral jury," he said. "I feel we got one."

John Barnett, attorney for Officer Theodore J. Briseno, said: "I think we've obtained a level playing field, no more."

Selection of the 12 jurors, including one Latina and an Asian-American, sets the stage for opening arguments to begin Thursday in a case that has brought national notoriety to the Police Department. The trial is expected to last at least into April.

In court hearings and in answer to written questions, the 12 jurors disclosed a wide range of opinions. One said the beating was "uncalled for." Others said it clearly appeared to be a case of "excessive force."

Most of those selected for the panel said they had viewed the widely broadcast videotape made by an amateur cameraman showing King being beaten, kicked and shot with a police stun gun in a Lake View Terrace neighborhood. But they said they could put aside their reactions and render a fair verdict.

With the jury expected to study the videotape over and over again during the trial, one juror selected Monday said he may find that task unpleasant.

"It is not something I would go out of my way to see but if it is necessary, I can handle it," said the juror, a 43-year-old telephone line installer who moved to Simi Valley from Los Angeles in 1975.

Along with the 12 jurors, six alternates were named to step in if any juror leaves the case. Five of those are women; all are white.

Only 2% of the 260 prospective jurors were black, and many of them were excused after they advised the judge that they held strong views about the beating and did not think they could be fair to the police officers.

King, Gates and cameraman George Holliday are among 175 witnesses listed for the long-awaited trial. It also is likely that several, if not all, of the defendants will testify.

In addition to Briseno and Powell, Sgt. Stacey C. Koon and former Officer Timothy E. Wind are charged with assault. Koon and Powell also are charged with filing false reports on the beating.

Along with their testimony, the jurors will hear from numerous police Internal Affairs Division investigators and use-of-force experts, as well as residents of an apartment complex who were awakened last March 3 to the sound of police sirens and then watched as King was struck more than 50 times as more than a dozen officers stood by.

Although defense lawyers had hoped that moving the trial to Ventura County would avoid problems created by intense media coverage, the monthlong jury selection process revealed that publicity was equally pervasive here.

Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg has ordered the identities of the jurors be kept confidential, but he allowed the release of lengthy questionnaires that provide both biographical information and insight into the jurors' attitudes about the Police Department.

Only three prospective jurors claimed to have never seen the videotape, which has been shown around the world. A fourth prospective juror, who is a reporter for the Thousand Oaks News-Chronicle and said he had read only one newspaper article about the King incident, was excused from the jury pool Monday.

The majority of the potential jurors also said they knew that Gates was under pressure to resign after the beating, but few said they remembered the work of the Christopher Commission and its recommendations on reforming the Police Department.

During a series of daylong hearings in February, the 12 jurors chosen expressed evenly divided views on the King beating and the Los Angeles Police Department.

The Asian-American juror, a 49-year-old nurse at the Olive View Medical Center in Los Angeles County, told the judge she believed the beating was "uncalled for."

"I don't know why they did that," said the woman, who was born in the Philippines and lives in Simi Valley.

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