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VENTURA COUNTY FOCUS | VENTURA

Attorney Seeks to Overturn '97 Conviction in Racial Assault Case

July 10, 1998|CHRIS CHI

An attorney for a Ventura man in prison for smashing a black man in the head with a beer bottle during a racially motivated attack argued Thursday that the conviction should be overturned.

Attorney Michael B. Dashjian said at a hearing in state appeals court that Jefferson Byrd did not hit the man with a bottle and that overly broad jury instructions contributed to Byrd's conviction.

A Ventura County jury last year convicted Byrd of smashing James Wilson with a beer bottle at a crowded party in Ventura, during which Wilson was assaulted by several men. The attack sliced off a portion of Wilson's left ear and caused him to lose his job as an underwater oil-rig diver.

Byrd is serving a 10-year prison sentence.

Dashjian argued that Byrd hit Wilson with his fist, not a bottle. Contrary to jury instructions given in last year's trial, Byrd should not have been eligible for being convicted of causing great bodily harm, he argued.

The attorney also said that Wilson, who was on probation for several crimes, was motivated to lie. Wilson could have gone to prison if authorities found out he was in a fistfight or was drinking, so he mischaracterized what happened at the party, Byrd's attorney argued.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Victoria Bedrossian countered that all jury instructions were proper and that numerous witnesses had supported allegations against Byrd.

A panel of state judges is expected to decide on the request to overturn the conviction within 90 days.

Byrd's wife, Brandee, attended the hearing, along with a black friend of Byrd's who said the charges of racism are false.

"I'm hoping this is reversed so he can come home," Brandee Byrd said.

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