With the Rodney G. King civil rights trial drawing to a close, the lawyer for the officer who delivered the majority of the baton blows to King concluded his case Friday with an impassioned appeal for jurors to see the incident through the eyes of a policeman under pressure.
Officer Laurence M. Powell "could have preserved his own safety," said his lawyer, Michael P. Stone. "He didn't do that. He chose to stand his ground. He chose to do his duty."
Stone spoke for almost four hours, sometimes shouting, pacing and wielding a baton, other times leaning on the lectern and speaking in a soft, pleading voice. He accused King of lying on the witness stand and analyzed the prosecution's medical evidence in detail.
But he began and ended with poignant descriptions of the difficult choices faced by police officers in violent situations.
"It was Officer Powell who stood between Rodney King and his escape into the woods of Hansen Dam Park," said Stone, who spent 15 years as a police officer and sergeant before becoming a lawyer.
Powell "was faithful to his charge on March 3, 1991. He was faithful to his duty," Stone added. "He deserves to be acquitted. It is right. It is just. He is innocent."
Stone's closing argument came on what probably will be the second-to-last day of one of the most closely watched criminal trials in American history. U.S. District Judge John G. Davies has scheduled a rare Saturday session today, and closing arguments are expected to conclude this morning at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles.
Davies is then expected to instruct the eight-man, four-woman jury and turn the case over to them for their deliberations. Jurors probably will get the case this afternoon, and they are scheduled to deliberate again on Easter, beginning at noon.
In addition to Powell, Timothy E. Wind and Theodore J. Briseno are accused of stomping, kicking and striking King with batons, depriving him of his right to be safe from the intentional use of unreasonable force. A fourth defendant, Sgt. Stacey C. Koon, did not strike King, but he was the senior officer at the scene and is accused of willfully allowing officers under his supervision to administer an unreasonable beating.
If convicted, the four men face up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
Stone's argument reached into virtually every aspect of the six-week federal trial, but he returned again and again to the dangerous challenge of police work. At one point, he asked the four defendants to stand, and told jurors they form the "thin blue line" that protects honest citizens from criminals.
Stone said King was a violently resisting suspect who the officers believed was under the influence of PCP, a powerful drug. The officers tried twice to subdue King using an electrical device known as a Taser, but King tossed off its effects, Stone said.
"Imagine what these officers thought, looking at this huge man getting up, his face convulsing," Stone said. "They thought: 'Uh-oh, it's not working.' "
At the conclusion of Stone's presentation, Paul R. DePasquale, the lawyer for Wind, delivered his closing argument, echoing many of the same themes about police work. He also guided jurors through the videotape of the beating, pointing out spots where he said Wind was pausing to consider his actions and take orders from Koon.
"Wind is in no frenzy," DePasquale said. "Wind is not out of control. He's a policeman following the direction of his sergeant."
Koon is the only one of the four defendants who testified and his account convinced the other officers that they did not need to take the stand. In their closing arguments, both Stone and DePasquale credited Koon for his supervision but pointedly emphasized that it was Koon who directed the actions of their clients.
"You must consider and decide the case of each defendant separately," DePasquale said. "This is not a team sport."
DePasquale stressed that Wind was not trying to hide behind Koon's orders, and Stone told jurors that he admired Koon's testimony. But their arguments made clear that if jurors believe unreasonable force was used during the beating, they could hold Koon solely responsible and determine that the other defendants merely followed his orders.
Although DePasquale's presentation occasionally bogged down in garbled syntax, he drew chuckles from the jury with a light joke about his baldness, and he moved swiftly through the videotape, focusing on Wind's actions throughout.
At one point on the tape, Wind appears to step forward to strike King with his baton but then pulls back.
"Tim Wind checked that swing," DePasquale said. "Tim Wind appears to be checking that swing . . . rather than swing into the head of Rodney Glen King."