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Witnesses in Denny Case Tell of Riot Ordeals : Courts: Beating victims and good Samaritans describe violent scene at Florence and Normandie. But none can identify a defendant as one of their attackers.

September 02, 1993|EDWARD J. BOYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As contractor Fidel Lopez lay bloody and unconscious on the pavement, someone spray-painted his genitals. Printer Takao Hirata, his face covered in blood, was dragged through a hostile crowd and eventually to safety by a good Samaritan. Would-be rescuer Jorge Gonzalez, a law student, became a victim instead, beaten senseless after trying to stop an assault.

Jurors in the trial of two men accused of attempting to murder trucker Reginald O. Denny saw those scenes on videotape Wednesday as a succession of witnesses grimly described their ordeals at the intersection where Denny was beaten.

Lopez, 48, an immigrant from Guatemala, was beaten and robbed of about $2,800 he had planned to use to buy supplies. He was rescued by the Rev. Benny Newton, who died in April of cancer. Lopez said he remembers telling Newton: "Please don't leave me here. Take me home."

Television actor and writer Gregory Alan-Williams testified that as he was pulling Hirata away from his Ford Bronco someone approached and struck the barely conscious man.

Gonzalez, 26, saw the attacks on television, went to offer help and was beaten unconscious when he tried to stop a man from delivering yet another blow to Hirata, he said.

Alan-Williams also described Wednesday how he recovered Denny's athletic bag and kept it "as evidence of inhumanity" after unsuccessfully trying to give it to police the night rioting broke out.

Underlying much of Wednesday's testimony was a contest over two central issues in this case--identity and intent. Prosecutors played footage of act after violent act committed by a man wearing a white T-shirt, dark shorts, black-and-white athletic shoes and a blue bandanna.

That man, prosecutors say, is Damian Monroe Williams. Gabriel Quintana, a gas station cashier who testified Tuesday, said he saw Williams--dressed in those clothes--throw a brick that hit Denny on the head.

None of Wednesday's witnesses, however, could identify Williams as one of their attackers. Only one could recall--independent of the videotapes--that a man dressed in a white T-shirt and dark shorts was involved in an attack at the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues, a flash point for last year's riots.

Williams, 20, and Henry Keith Watson, 28, are charged with multiple felonies stemming from their alleged roles in assaulting or robbing five motorists other than Denny and two firefighters as they passed through the intersection on April 29, 1992.

Answering questions from Deputy Dist. Atty. Janet Moore, Los Angeles firefighter Fred Mathis said a mob at the intersection attacked the Fire Department car in which he and Battalion Chief Terrance Manning were riding--hitting it with bricks and bottles and driving a pickax into its roof. Mathis and Manning were not injured.

The crowd was "absolutely" acting purposefully, with some pointing and others responding as they came together to attack the car, he said. Mathis, however, agreed with Williams' attorney, Edi M. O. Faal, that the scene at the intersection was "disorderly and chaotic."

His answer to Moore supports the prosecution's contention that the crowd acted with deliberate intent--an element necessary to prove an aggravated mayhem charge against Williams and attempted murder charges against Williams and Watson.

His answer to Faal, however, tends to support the defense contention that chaotic riot conditions existed at the intersection. People do not act in concert with willful intent under those circumstances, defense attorneys contend. In their words, people "were doing their own things" at the intersection.

Wednesday's testimony began with Alan-Williams continuing a description begun Tuesday of how he dragged a bloody Hirata to safety. Alan-Williams said he remembered an individual wearing a white T-shirt and dark shorts hitting Hirata, but he could not identify that person.

The actor said he returned to the intersection about 9:30 p.m. looking for Hirata's Ford Bronco, hoping its license number would help identify the truck's owner.

He found Denny's bag containing personal papers and a company manual, he said. He also found the service warranty on Hirata's Bronco and called the printer's mother and wife from numbers he found on the papers.

Alan-Williams said he recognized Denny's name on the bag from news reports and tried to give the bag to police at a command post. But police were too busy to talk to him and did not take the bag, he said.

He testified Tuesday that he had been rebuffed by police earlier near Florence and Normandie when a cruiser stopped twice but pulled away without offering assistance as he struggled to get Hirata to a hospital.

He said he kept Denny's bag at home until telling surprised prosecutors about it Aug. 23.

"It was memorabilia, in a sense, of an act of inhumanity," he said. "And as such, it was important to me . . . some abstract kind of emotional thing."

Faal moved for a mistrial Wednesday after Alan-Williams testified that prosecutors had not asked him if he would agree to speak to defense attorneys. Faal said Deputy Dist. Atty. Lawrence C. Morrison had misled him when he said no prosecution witnesses wanted to speak to defense attorneys.

Morrison denied Faal's allegation, saying he resented "the attack on my character." He said Alan-Williams said last year during the defendants' preliminary hearing that he did not want to speak to defense attorneys.

Superior Court Judge John W. Ouderkirk denied Faal's motion.

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