Because the prosecution's case fell apart, a man charged with shooting a Los Angeles firefighter in the neck on the first day of last year's riots was allowed to plead no contest Friday to four of the 18 charges against him in exchange for a 16-year sentence.
The settlement spared Thurman Ivory Woods, 22, a possible life term had he been convicted of attempted murder in the April 29, 1992, shooting of Scott Miller, who returned to work last fall. He is a captain and fire inspector of high-rise buildings.
Miller does not have full use of his left arm and hand and is undergoing intense physical therapy. The bullet that entered below the right side of his jaw and had been lodged for months in his chin can no longer be found with X-rays.
The fireman's voice, which was barely audible when he completed a 9 1/2-week hospital stay, was much stronger at a news conference Friday that he and Fire Chief Donald O. Manning held after Woods entered his pleas.
Miller said that he could never forgive the man who "forever changed" his life, but that he was satisfied with the plea arrangement.
At Woods' court hearing Friday, Deputy Dist. Atty. Susan M. Speer told Superior Court Judge Paul G. Flynn that she, Miller, the Los Angeles Police Department and the highest authorities in the district attorney's office agreed to Woods' pleas only because two key witnesses had disappeared and others were uncooperative.
As a result, "there was not sufficient evidence to prove he was guilty of these crimes," Speer later told reporters.
Woods' lawyer, David Herriford, said he accepted the deal because even with a weak prosecution case he was afraid that a jury might find Miller an extremely sympathetic victim and convict Woods.
To have gone to trial would have been "a gamble and a risk for both sides," Herriford said.
Miller had been driving a hook-and-ladder truck in answer to a call in the first hours of the riots when Woods, apparently angry because the truck would not yield to him as he tried to pass, shot him from a car, the prosecution had contended.
The 17 other charges--including three other attempted murder counts--stemmed from a gunfire-filled rampage of looting and burning, Speer said.
As a result of two days of negotiations begun on the eve of his trial date, Woods pleaded no contest to only the one attempted murder charge, setting fire to a furniture store and two counts of shooting at two occupied gas stations.
As a result of pleas to the latter three charges, Flynn sentenced Woods to three five-year sentences, which are to be served concurrently with the 16-year term. Two special allegations related to the Miller shooting and all other charges against Woods were dropped. He will be eligible for parole after serving 8 years.
Woods, who authorities contend is a gang member, was on probation for selling cocaine when he was arrested and could have been sentenced to four years for that alone, but as part of the plea arrangement Flynn terminated the probation.
No contest pleas are not admissions of guilt, but are treated as convictions. Speer said Woods --who entered the courtroom Friday carrying a dogeared paperback copy of Danielle Steele's potboiler novel "Heartbeat"--had not expressed any remorse for the crimes.
At his news conference, Miller said an apology from Woods would mean little to him and his family.
"It's a sad state of affairs that people can't take responsibility for their own actions . . . but being sorry won't help," he said.