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Watson Apologizes for Denny Assault : Television: The two meet at "Donahue" show taping. Denny is forgiving, but many in audience seem unsatisfied by his assailant's statement.

November 09, 1993|JANE HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Henry Keith Watson apologized on a videotaping of the Phil Donahue talk show Monday for his role in the beating of Reginald O. Denny, but the predominantly white audience did not appear to be satisfied.

Denny and Watson met for what was said to be the first time on national television during an emotional session that will air in two parts today and Wednesday on KNBC-TV.

Watson, 29, was found not guilty of a charge of attempting to murder Denny, but was convicted on a misdemeanor assault charge for placing his foot on the trucker's neck. The jury deadlocked on a felony assault charge; Watson subsequently pleaded guilty to the charge in exchange for a sentence of probation.

Watson was released from custody last month because he already had served more time than the maximum six-month sentence for misdemeanor assault.

Asked by Donahue, "Are you sorry?," Watson replied, "Yes, I'm sorry for the injuries Mr. Denny suffered."

"Are you sorry for your participation in the event?" Donahue asked. Watson replied, "I have mixed feelings about it."

The audience of about 200 people, which appeared to include only a handful of African-Americans, gasped. When Donahue asked Watson to explain further, he said, "What happened to Mr. Denny at the intersection was terribly unfortunate. He was an innocent victim, an innocent person." When Donahue asked whether Watson viewed the Denny beating as "retribution" for the not-guilty verdicts in the first Rodney G. King beating trial, Watson said, "It was more of a reaction."

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For his part, Denny was forgiving, as he has been in other public statements. Denny applauded Watson for coming on the show and said, "This is a civil war. This is not me against Mr. Watson--it's not a personal vendetta. The problems were happening before Mr. Watson and I were born."

Watson, who shook hands with Denny at the beginning of the program, said later during the show that he had wanted to come on the Donahue show to apologize to Denny for what happened, and Watson noted that he had apologized publicly in the courtroom during the trial.

"I apologize for my participation in the injuries you suffered," Watson said at the end of the first hour of the Donahue show, adding to the audience, "Is everybody happy now?"

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But some in the audience and some viewers who placed phone calls to the show did not appear to be as understanding as Denny.

"I'm waiting for this man to apologize," said one man in the audience after Watson's initial response.

"As a person of color, I could understand the outrage over Rodney King, but I didn't go out and express my outrage," said one caller. "I applaud Mr. Denny's courage."

"The majority of people in the audience want a black person to apologize to a white person," said Paul Parker, a leader of the Free the L.A. 4+ Defense Committee, from his seat in the audience. He said there has been a 200-year history of racism in the United States, with incidents such as the King beating occurring "on a regular basis."

Carolyn Walters, who was jury forewoman at Watson's trial and was also a guest on the Donahue show, said that race had played no part in the jury's deliberations. "This was not a black and white issue," Walters said. "The jury does not condone what happened--(what) happened was horrible. We were not happy with everything we had to do, but the verdicts were rendered in accordance with the law."

Walters said the jury had not been intimidated by the political climate surrounding the case.

All the participants on the show, Donahue said, were paid a fee, which he did not disclose, in addition to their expenses.

At one point during the show, which was extended to two hours, even Denny's forgiveness of the men who beat him was questioned by some members of the audience.

One caller said that she applauded his forgiveness, but worried that he seemed to be condoning violence. Denny said that was not the case.

Another member of the audience asked if Denny would be so forgiving if he did not know where his next meal was coming from.

Denny, who has a lawsuit pending against the city, responded that he is not working and is drawing worker's compensation. "I'm getting $332 a week . . . ," he said, adding jokingly, "That's really stylin.' "

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