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East Valley Focus

Jury Deliberations to Begin in Riot Death

September 23, 1993|THOM MROZEK

A Van Nuys Superior Court jury will begin deliberations today to determine if Traville Craig is guilty of killing Elias Garcia Rivera in what the coroner is calling the 53rd confirmed death related to the Los Angeles riots.

If Craig, 20, is convicted of all charges, he would be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Garcia, 32, was one of a group of Latino men who sought refuge inside their apartment building when a scuffle broke out between them and a group of black men on the night of April 29, 1992, during the early hours of civil unrest that followed the first Rodney King police beating trial.

After suffering a severe blow to his head, Garcia underwent emergency surgery but fell into a coma during the procedure. He died eight months later, never regaining consciousness.

He was the only riot victim to be killed in the San Fernando Valley.

While prosecutors portrayed Craig as an opportunist exploiting tensions on that first night of chaos, Craig testified that he was acting in self-defense after one man hit him in the face and later attempted to smash him with a deck chair.

But while Craig claims that he was struck for no reason, the Latino men were trying to avoid trouble when a group of black men approached them, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Shellie Samuels, who is prosecuting the case.

One of the Latinos, Victor Medina, told the black men that he supported King and was in favor of a new trial in the case, attorneys on both sides agree. Medina also donated $2 to a supposed fund that Craig said would be used to retry the officers.

Medina said someone tried to grab his wallet, and Craig chased him inside the building when he refused. Craig armed himself with a wooden board and hit Medina on the head when he refused to surrender his wallet, Samuels said.

In addition to the slaying of Garcia Rivera, Craig is charged with attempted murder for hitting Medina and causing a wound that required nearly 20 stitches.

Craig admitted hitting Medina with a board but said he dropped the weapon when a bloodied Medina fell to the ground. Craig has steadfastly maintained that he hit Garcia with his fist and that Garcia's skull fracture was caused when he hit his head on a concrete step.

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