"Strategy-wise, (the defense lawyers are) trying to create a distraction for the prosecutors," said Loyola law professor Laurie Levenson, who has been observing the trial. "The more the prosecutors are worried about what is happening outside the courtroom the less they're concentrating on what's going on inside."
Lawyers for the defendants deny that they are trying to affect the verdict. Rather, they say they feel obligated to do anything they can to help clear their clients' names with the public, as well as with the jury.
"The media coverage and the general public perception is horribly biased," said Koon's lawyer, Ira Salzman. "Polls show my client is presumed guilty, despite the fact that he was found not guilty in the Simi Valley trial last year."
Powell and Koon said they are speaking out to balance what they consider skewed press coverage. Koon said that if the press had done a better job of reporting the first trial, then the public would have been better prepared for the verdicts. "If you act responsibly this time there won't be another riot," he told a reporter.
Similarly, Powell's lawyer, Michael P. Stone, said he is speaking out to prepare the public for the acquittals he anticipates. "I'm afraid expectations of a conviction will rise like before" because of media coverage, he said. "There seems to be a slant toward the officers were wrong, not Rodney King was wrong."
Defense lawyer Braun said his tactics are affected because the problems of his client, Briseno, will not be over even if he is acquitted because he still faces internal Police Department charges. "The Police Department is very political," Braun said. "If Ted can look better to the public, it will help."
Earlier this month, Braun held a news conference with Briseno and a polygraph expert during which they released the results of a lie detector test, purportedly showing that Briseno was truthful when he said that he stepped on King's back to protect him. The next morning, Davies, in response to a motion by federal prosecutors, followed longstanding precedents and ruled the test inadmissible.
But Braun said that despite his setback in court, a key goal had been achieved. "People have been calling Ted a liar for the last two years. He wanted the word out that he passed the test as much for self-respect as for admissibility."
Braun also said his decision to take an aggressive public stance stemmed in part from his perception that he had triumphed in the past by engaging prosecutors in verbal warfare outside the courtroom. In particular, he cited the celebrated 1987 "Twilight Zone" case, in which he successfully represented film producer George Folsey, one of five defendants accused of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of Vic Morrow and two child actors killed by a helicopter during the late-night filming of a battle scene.
He said that the defense had lured Deputy Dist. Atty. Lea Purwin D'Agostino into "insane total warfare" during frequent histrionic news conferences. Braun said the "carnival-like" atmosphere helped to deflect attention from the defendants, focusing the spotlight on D'Agostino's tactics.
But this time, prosecutors are not going for the bait. They have declined comment outside the courtroom.
"It is unprofessional and counterproductive to engage in a daily harangue on the courthouse steps," said U.S. Atty. Terree A. Bowers, responding on behalf of the prosecuting attorneys. "It is unfortunate that inflammatory statements that would be inadmissible and even sanctionable in the context of the trial itself somehow garner the rapt attention of the media at the end of each trial day."
Levenson and other observers said they believe that some of the prosecutors' reticence to comment outside the courtroom is because they are at much greater risk of endangering their legal position with a misstatement than are defense lawyers.
Virtually all reporters covering the King trial say the outside news conferences would play a less significant role if a video camera was allowed in the courtroom, enabling television stations to show film of the testimony.
Because cameras are prohibited in federal court, the news conferences have, in a sense, supplanted the extensive live coverage of the first trial. As a result, the defense has been able to dominate the television images to a greater degree.
Still, UCLA criminal law professor Peter Arenella questions whether any of the posturing and rhetoric will, in the end, make any difference.
"I don't believe the general public will change their own preconceptions of guilt or innocence, formed by viewing the videotape, because of the attempts of the defense camp and others to woo them to their side," Arenella said.
Times staff writer Jim Newton contributed to this article.