A prosecutor contended Tuesday that a Compton police officer fired 10 shots into two Samoan brothers as they argued with him in the driveway of their home last year, then "in cold blood" reloaded his gun and shot them nine more times as they lay wounded and helpless on the ground.
"You wouldn't shoot Adolf Hitler like that," Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Healey told a jury.
But a lawyer for Albert Skiles--the first Los Angeles County law enforcement officer in a decade to be criminally charged in a killing--told the jury that his client will take the witness stand and testify that he acted out of fear for his life.
"This is not a hard, cruel and brutal murder," said George Franscell, "this is self-defense pure and simple."
The assertions were made as opening statements in the trial of Skiles, 44, a 12-year police veteran accused of voluntary manslaughter in the deaths of Pouvi Tualaulelei, a 34-year-old warehouseman, and Itali Tualaulelei, a 22-year-old student at El Camino College.
The brothers were shot a total of 19 times--all from the back or the side, autopsy reports said--after Pouvi's wife called police on the morning of Feb. 12, 1991, to report that her husband had hit her. The only witness to the shooting was Ieti Tualaulelei, the younger brother of the dead men. He testified in the preliminary hearing that Skiles ordered his brothers to kneel before he shot them.
The shooting caused an uproar in the local Samoan community, whose leaders accused police of stereotyping their people as violent and primitive.
Because the Tualauleleis were members of the extended royal family of Western Samoa, the case has attracted attention from the government of that Pacific island nation. The brothers' survivors have filed a $100-million civil lawsuit against Skiles and the Compton Police Department.
In addition, the FBI is investigating whether the brothers' civil rights were violated.
In his 10-minute statement to the jury Tuesday, Franscell gave few details of the case he will present, except to say that Skiles would take the stand. He also said he would show that Pouvi Tualaulelei had "extensive" prior contact with police.
During his cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, he attempted to elicit testimony that portrayed the officer as disheveled, breathing heavily and acting dazed immediately after the shooting. A fragmented button from Skiles' shirt was found in the driveway.
Healy in his statement acknowledged that the Tualaulelei brothers, especially Pouvi, were angry and upset the night they were killed and may have done something to frighten Skiles into drawing and firing his weapon.
But Healey said over and over that the second volley of shots occurred after the brothers had fallen. "Common sense would tell you you don't say to someone 'get on your . . . feet' unless they are off their feet," Healy told the jury.
His first witness, Arnetta Carrodine, a neighbor of the Tualauleleis', said she heard someone repeating the phrase "get on your (expletive) feet" between the two volleys of gunfire. Another witness, Healey said, will testify to seeing Skiles calmly and unhurriedly walk around Pouvi Tualaulelei's car after the first 10 shots, reload and fire again.
Also in his statement, Healey conceded that Pouvi had earlier contacts with police and may have been under the influence of cocaine when he was killed, but that this did not justify the shooting.
During a break, Healey confirmed information from the Tualaulelei family that Pouvi Tualaulelei served for 11 months as a constable--the equivalent of police officer--in the Western Samoa Police and Prison Service. The fact that he held such a job, the prosecutor said, shows "he is not as bad as the defense wants to paint him."