A woman described by other witnesses as "the white girl with the ghetto twang" Thursday identified boxing gold medalist Henry Tillman as the gunman who killed one man and gravely wounded another four years ago.
Lauri Meadows, who said fear drove her to recant her identification of Tillman at a preliminary hearing in 1996, spoke in a sure, clear voice, telling a Superior Court jury in Santa Monica that she was certain Tillman was the gunman.
Tillman, 39, who overcame a youth of crime to win the Olympic heavyweight boxing gold medal in 1984, is charged with murder and attempted murder. He faces life in prison if convicted.
Meadows was the first prosecution witness to directly link Tillman to the shooting. Prosecutors have been plagued by changing and contradictory accounts of what happened at closing time outside the Townhouse nightclub on Jan. 10, 1996. Two witnesses have recanted during the trial, denying that they saw Tillman or heard gunshots.
After Meadows took the stand, Judge Steven C. Suzukawa advised her that she could be prosecuted for perjury if her trial testimony differed from the story she told at a preliminary hearing on May 16, 1996. She declined the judge's offer for an attorney and testified.
Tearing up, Meadows told jurors that she had decided to come forward because the victims, Leon "L.B." Milton and Kevin Anderson, were her friends.
"For four years, I've been living with this, this conscience, knowing who did it," she said.
In his cross-examination, defense attorney Al DeBlanc suggested that there might be other incentives for Meadows to identify his client.
Under the defense attorney's questioning, Meadows revealed that she is in federal custody, facing a charge of possession of cocaine with the intent to deliver. The case, which is pending, "is a high case," she conceded, carrying a possible prison sentence of "zero to 13 years."
Meadows said, however, that no deal has been struck for her testimony in the Tillman case.
Wearing a bright purple pantsuit and her dark hair in a curly plume, Meadows recounted the events that led to the two bursts of gunfire that killed Anderson and injured Milton.
It began, she said, when she stepped on a man's toe while carrying two drinks she had bought at the bar at last call.
"As I was walking, I tripped over somebody's foot," she said. "I spilled my drink on my hand and I said, 'Excuse me. I'm sorry.' She said the man responded, in a deep voice, "Yeah, cuz I kill [expletive] like you." It shocked her: "Like, dang, did I do something that bad?" she said as she walked away.
She told Milton about the man, and he told her not to worry, that the man had been staring at Milton "crazy," all evening. Anderson also told her, "Don't worry, he's ignorant," she said. As she spoke to her friends, the man continued to glare at them. She identified the man as Tillman.
Meadows next saw Tillman, she testified, outside the club. She was leaning into Milton's new Lincoln Continental, "laughing and joking" with him. She heard a deep voice growl, "Move . . ." as she was knocked to the pavement.
She testified that she looked up and saw Tillman pointing a gun--it appeared to be a .38-caliber revolver--into the car, and Milton struggling to push it away. She heard a shot, and then Milton's car sped away.
She said she "looked [Tillman] dead in his face" and screamed, "Somebody do something. Somebody help!" He leaped into his car, a boxy, older Oldsmobile or Buick, and gave chase. She heard three to four more shots, but at that point, all she could see were red taillights.
She and a friend followed in their car. They made a wrong turn, and by the time they circled back, a crowd had gathered around the Lincoln, which had crashed. Inside, Anderson and Milton were "passing out, just laid out inside the car."