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Actions Were Self-Defense, Man Testifies : Court: The defendant says he and two friends were first attacked during an incident that resulted in the only San Fernando Valley riot-related death.


VAN NUYS — A North Hollywood man accused of killing the only person to die in the San Fernando Valley as a result of last year's riots testified Monday that he was acting in self-defense when he used a board and then his hands to strike two men who attacked him first.

Traville Craig, 20, is charged with killing Elias Garcia Rivera, 32, a North Hollywood resident who was struck in the head on April 29, 1992, just hours after a Simi Valley jury acquitted four officers in the beating of motorist Rodney G. King.

Garcia underwent emergency surgery early the next day, but fell into a coma during the procedure. He died eight months later, making Garcia the 53rd person to die as a result of the civil unrest that erupted in the wake of the verdicts.

While several other people died by violent means in the San Fernando Valley during the three days of chaos, a four-month review of incidents by the coroner's office concluded that Garcia was the only person in the Valley to die as a result of the riots.

Prosecutors have charged Craig with using a board to smash Garcia in the head, causing an injury that later proved to be fatal.

Testimony presented by Deputy Dist. Atty. Shellie Samuels has indicated that Craig first demanded one man's wallet and chased him when he refused to hand it over. Garcia was struck with a board after coming to his friend's aid.

But on the witness stand in his murder trial in Van Nuys Superior Court, Craig painted a much different picture. The defendant said he and two friends were first attacked by a group of Latino men who were drinking beer outside a North Hollywood apartment.

He said the Latinos on Vanowen Street near Coldwater Canyon Avenue stopped him and his friends to express their support for King and dissatisfaction with the verdicts. Craig contended that he was collecting money to retry the officers who beat King, and that one man donated $2 but somebody else took the money.

Without warning, Craig said two different men then struck him, one of them hitting him in the eye. Craig said he chased the man who hit him, identified as Victor Medina, into an apartment building, yelling out, "Why did you hit me?"

Craig testified that Medina grabbed a deck chair and he armed himself with a board in self-defense and that a scuffle ensued. Craig is also charged with attempted murder for clubbing Medina, who needed almost 20 stitches to close a wound on his head.

It was in the same apartment building scuffle that Garcia was injured. Craig contended that he only punched Garcia in self-defense, but other witnesses have contended that Craig used a board to hit Garcia.

Craig was apprehended the next day when one man being questioned in the incident identified Craig, who was walking alongside the police vehicle, authorities said. Craig has maintained since the beginning that he acted in self-defense.

Prosecutors are hoping to convince the jury that Craig was attempting to rob Medina. If the jury convicts Craig of murder during the course of a robbery, he would face life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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