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King Case Is Handed to Jury; Deliberations to Resume Today : Trial: Final defense argument is rich in biblical references, while prosecutor calls officers 'bullies with badges.' LAPD is now in a heightened state of readiness.

April 11, 1993|JIM NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Almost one year after a state jury returned not guilty verdicts in the case of four police officers accused of beating Rodney G. King, another judge sent the case to another group of jurors Saturday, this time to decide whether the same defendants violated King's civil rights.

"You are now in the hands of the marshals," U.S. District Judge John G. Davies told the jury at 3:07 p.m. "You may retire to the jury room."

Deliberations will resume today at 12:30 p.m., a late start so that some jurors can attend Easter services.

The costliest riots in modern American history swept Los Angeles at the conclusion of last year's state trial, and the federal case ended Saturday in a city tense with anticipation about the verdicts. The Los Angeles Police Department went to a heightened state of readiness at midnight Saturday, adding 600 officers to patrol duties.

The prospect of new rioting has haunted the federal trial from its opening moments. Davies told jurors that they should set aside any information they had learned about the case outside the courtroom and that they should not be "influenced by any external consequences of your verdicts."

After more than six weeks and 61 witnesses, the trial culminated with a pair of closing arguments delivered by a criminal defense attorney and a Justice Department prosecutor who have contrasting styles and who have come to dislike one another during the course of this case.

Harland W. Braun, the lawyer for Officer Theodore J. Briseno, kicked off the trial's final day with an eloquent two-hour presentation, rich in historical and biblical references and bitter in its attack on the government lawyers for indicting his client and for accusing him of lying.

"You call an American citizen--a police officer--a perjurer?" Braun asked the prosecutors. "Prove it."

Barry F. Kowalski, a veteran civil rights lawyer and one of two lead prosecutors in the trial, then concluded the government's case with a long but scrappy rebuttal that called on jurors to use their common sense.

"Let's call it like it is, ladies and gentlemen," Kowalski said of the four defendants. "They were bullies with badges."

The case is in the hands of an eight-man, four-woman panel of jurors, composed of nine Anglos, two African-Americans and one Latino. All 12 panelists, as well as three alternates, were selected after a grueling process intended to find citizens who could consider the case impartially. Although they fidgeted in their chairs at times, they stayed attentive for the most part throughout the five weeks of testimony and three days of closing arguments.

Even though they have seen the videotape of the beating dozens of times, they sat forward Saturday and watched again with interest as Kowalski showed it to them one last time.

"Watch the videotape. Use your common sense," Kowalski said. "It's wrong to beat a man who's lying on the ground. You know that in the schoolyard when you're a kid. You don't kick a man when he's down. . . . The law demands that we follow that schoolyard rule."

After the lawyers completed their closing remarks, Davies read 39 instructions to guide jurors in how they should weigh the evidence and in what is required to convict or acquit the officers. After his instructions, he turned the case over to the jurors who deliberated until about 5:45 p.m.

Davies also instructed lawyers for both sides to be within 15 minutes of his courtroom while deliberations are under way so the attorneys can be present if Davies is required to answer questions from the jury. Exact details for disclosing verdicts were unclear, but representatives of the U.S. Marshals Service said they expect that there will be at least one hour's notice when the jury concludes its work.

In addition to Briseno, Officers Laurence M. Powell and Timothy E. Wind are accused of kicking, stomping or beating King with batons, in the process depriving him of his constitutional right to be safe from the intentional use of unreasonable force. The fourth defendant, Sgt. Stacey C. Koon, was the senior officer at the scene of the beating, and he is accused of allowing officers under his supervision to administer an unreasonable beating.

Braun was the final defense lawyer to make his closing argument, and he chose a different approach than his co-counsel.

While the other defense lawyers used copious exhibits and electronic devices, Braun forswore the equipment in favor of what he called an old-fashioned approach.

As he sketched out the evidence in the case, Braun returned again and again to a biblical refrain: "What evil has this man done?" he asked, gesturing time and again at Briseno.

Braun set his tone with his opening sentences, reminding jurors that the trial was concluding on the day between Good Friday and Easter, and he used religious imagery throughout his presentation. Without ever mentioning Jesus by name, Braun structured his remarks around the judgment of Jesus by Pontius Pilate.

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