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Williams a Scapegoat for a Failed System, Lawyer Says : Trial: Defense presents final arguments in Denny beating case. One juror is replaced by an alternate.

September 30, 1993|MICHAEL FLEEMAN | ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

A man charged in the Reginald O. Denny beating was made a scapegoat by authorities looking to shift blame after they failed to respond to the riots, a defense attorney said Wednesday in closing arguments.

"This case has no credibility whatsoever. This case should not have been before you," said attorney Edi M.O. Faal, who represents Damian Monroe Williams.

In a detailed presentation, Faal used charts, photos, videotape and humor at the expense of prosecutors and their key witnesses to support his claim that authorities failed to prove Williams is the man seen attacking Denny.

Faal also suggested that people at the scene of the beating of Denny and other motorists were not thinking clearly that day, when four police officers were acquitted on all but one charge in the first Rodney G. King beating case.

"April 29, 1992, was a tragic day for everyone," he said. "It was not a day when a group of people got together and decided they would go out and commit crimes. The system had failed that day."

Before Faal's closing arguments, Superior Court Judge John Ouderkirk removed a juror at the request of the defense and the prosecution. The juror, a black man in his 50s, was replaced by an alternate, a black woman in her 30s, leaving 10 women and two men on the panel hearing the case against Williams and co-defendant Henry Keith Watson.

Ouderkirk did not say why the juror was removed. But a spokesman for Williams' family, Don Jackson, said there was evidence that the man violated his jury oath by discussing the case with neighbors.

"We are certain that this juror contaminated other jurors involved in these proceedings through his careless conduct," said Jackson. But there was no motion for a mistrial by Williams' attorneys.

The dismissed juror was unavailable for comment. His name and address, like those of the others, were kept secret by the judge, and he was not seen in the court building.

Watson, 29, and Williams, 20, are charged with attempted murder and other felonies in the attack on Denny and other motorists as rioting broke out. Television news crews in helicopters broadcast live pictures of the Denny beating.

Both defendants could face life prison sentences if convicted of attempted murder, the most serious charge.

Faal's lengthy, aggressive closing argument contrasted with a relatively brief and low-key presentation Tuesday by Watson's attorney, Earl Broady, who conceded that Watson may have assaulted another motorist and did in fact place his foot on Denny's neck, but to protect him, not to hold him for attacks.

Faal lashed out at authorities for even filing the charges against Williams, saying they did so only to deflect public criticism after a confused police response during the riots.

"The office of the district attorney decided to look for scapegoats," Faal said.

And so, he said, authorities went after Williams with a passion, sending former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates--with a TV crew in tow--to personally arrest him.

Faal said authorities then filed charges without sufficient evidence and prosecuted Williams without proving beyond a reasonable doubt that he is the man shown on videotape hurling a brick at Denny's head.

He accused trial prosecutors of playing to jurors' emotions rather than reason. He singled out Deputy Dist. Atty. Janet Moore's praise Tuesday of black South-Central residents who rescued beating victims.

"I have my doubts as to whether that statement is sincere," Faal said. "That was a statement aimed at flattering certain members of the jury."

Faal also said prosecution witnesses who claimed to have seen Williams at the scene were either lying or badly mistaken. One by one, he belittled them--noting that one witness could not look at the jury and another used theatrical gestures when slowly scanning the counsel tables before identifying the defendants.

Faal's jabs drew laughter from jurors and spectators, including relatives of the defendants.

Faal said that one witness with no credibility was Robert Tur, a broadcast journalist who identified Williams and Watson in court. Tur was in the helicopter during the attack.

Faal described Tur as "more of an advocate than a witness in this case"--a man who would gladly trade places with the prosecutors.

Another key prosecution witness, Gabriel Quintana, also was wrong when he said he saw Williams attack Denny, according to Faal, who pointed to a discrepancy in Quintana's testimony that Denny was hit by three bricks, when the video shows one.

Quintana, a gas station attendant, was too far away from the attack and was himself beaten at the same time as Denny, the attorney said. And, Faal said, Quintana may have been trying to settle a score with Williams from a previous dispute.

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