A racially mixed, eight-man, four-woman jury was selected Monday in the Rodney G. King civil rights trial, concluding five days of painstaking questioning and an extraordinary tussle over the racial composition of the panel.
Dozens of prospective jurors were dismissed during the grueling selection process, some for bias, others after they expressed health or safety concerns. The panel that ultimately was selected for the volatile case includes two African-Americans and one Latino--in contrast to last year's state trial of the same four defendants, when the jury included no blacks.
Jury selection, which began last Tuesday, stretched beyond the estimates of lawyers and U.S. District Judge John G. Davies, who initially predicted that it would be finished by last Friday. Three alternate jurors remain to be selected, but Davies ordered the 12 jurors to return Wednesday morning, when opening statements in the trial will be delivered.
Before both sides agreed on the panel of 12 citizens, lawyers in the case clashed openly on the issue of race, with prosecutors and defense lawyers accusing one another of removing prospective jurors for racist reasons.
The prosecution was the first to make that claim, after defense lawyers sought to remove a prospective juror who is black. The distinguished-looking older man, who has lived in Watts for 25 years, insisted that he could be fair. But he gave answers in court that defense lawyers said were inconsistent with his responses to the 53-page questionnaire completed by all of the prospective jurors nearly three weeks ago.
Prosecutors disagreed and accused the defense of seeking to remove the man because he is black. Lawyers may not eliminate potential jurors because of their race.
"There isn't a person in the courtroom who does not believe that this person was treated differently because he is black," Assistant U.S. Atty. Steven D. Clymer said after the defense lawyers exercised their right to remove that man. "They are excluding jurors because of their race."
Defense lawyers objected furiously to the accusation.
"We have done absolutely nothing that would give even a peppercorn, a twig, a shred of credibility to the government's contention," said Ira Salzman, the lawyer for Sgt. Stacey C. Koon.
Although Judge Davies agreed that some of the man's statements were inconsistent, he ruled in favor of prosecutors and ordered that the man be allowed to remain on the jury.
Later, defense attorneys raised precisely the same objection when prosecutors attempted to remove a white prospective juror from the panel. Paul DePasquale, lawyer for Timothy E. Wind, said prosecutors were trying to "manipulate the racial composition" of the jury by removing white jurors in the hope that some would be replaced by blacks.
Davies rejected that argument, and allowed prosecutors to excuse a middle-aged white man who had served as a military police officer in the National Guard.
That man was replaced by a young Latino who professed to know almost nothing about the incident--he was the only prospective juror, for instance, who said he had never seen the videotape of the King beating. Neither side raised an objection to that man, and the 12 members of the panel were sworn in late Monday afternoon.
Although the names of jurors were not disclosed, details of their lives emerged during the five days of questioning. And from those accounts it appears that jurors bring a variety of experience to their task.
The jury will include blue-collar workers and professionals, city residents and suburbanites, mothers, fathers and single people.
Some said they came to the process out of patriotism or duty. Others looked forward to the opportunity to serve, and one man said he saw it as the "chance of a lifetime."
The jury, as is often the case, is made up mostly of older people, but it also includes a few who appear to be in their 20s or 30s.
Of the 12 who were chosen, one is a former security guard who has used force on suspects, and three are veterans--two of the Marine Corps, another of the Danish military.
Male panelists were only rarely asked about their families, but at least three of the four women are mothers, including a single mother who is raising a 4-year-old son. That woman, who is black and works for the Postal Service, was among the first 12 prospective jurors seated in the case, and she survived five days of questioning by both sides.
In response to questions by prosecutors, she said she was surprised by the not guilty verdicts in state court, but she did not criticize jurors in that case. She also said that she does not view the King beating as a racial incident, a response that heartened defense lawyers.
"It sounds to me like they had a hard time making that decision," she said of the state court jurors. "They did the best of their abilities, as any person would."