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In Long Beach attack, witness could be key

Marice Huff testifies he saw whites being beaten on Halloween. But the defense questions his memory of the incident.

December 20, 2006|Joe Mozingo | Times Staff Writer

A good Samaritan who broke up a crowd of black youths attacking three white women on Halloween night testified Tuesday that a group of girls was beating one of the victims.

"That group of girls was still on her," said Marice Huff, 35, beginning to sob. "She was trying to fight them off. But you can only fight for so long."

Because he apparently saw the fight close-up, Huff could be a strong witness for prosecutors in the case against nine girls and one boy, ages 12 to 18, charged with the assault. If convicted, eight of the defendants face a hate-crime enhancement to their sentence.

The defense is vigorously trying to have the judge prohibit Huff from identifying any of the 10 minors on trial as the attackers he saw that night. The attorneys have argued that Huff told police on three occasions that he could not identify anyone, given the chaos that night.

He "was almost sure he would not be able to recognize anyone in particular due to the fluid [nature] of the incident," Richard Austin, a Long Beach police officer, wrote in a police report Nov. 16.

But in a meeting Friday with Deputy Dist. Atty. Andrea Bouas, Huff was shown photos of the 10 defendants and was able to say that five of them took part in the attack, according to several attorneys in the case.

Deputy Public Defender Stephanie Sauter, in a motion to prohibit the testimony, wrote that the identification "was so impossibly suggestive that it gives rise to substantial likelihood of misidentification."

Judge Gibson Lee said Monday that he would hold a hearing on the matter; on Tuesday he said that the defense would have to prove the identification process was tainted.

Aside from the identifications, Huff was allowed to testify on the events of Halloween night in Bixby Knolls, where he had taken his wife and children trick-or-treating.

Huff testified that the women walked by a crowd of black youths on a street corner.

"Something had come flying from the left side of the crowd," Huff testified. "A rolled-up Bixby Knolls newsletter." Huff testified that one victim, in a red dress, threw it back at the crowd.

The only victim to testify so far, Loren Hyman, who was wearing a red dress, said she and her friends did not throw anything.

Huff's testimony was sometimes mumbled and confusing. He often didn't answer the prosecutor's questions directly, leading to a barrage of objections that drew the proceeding almost to a halt.

Huff testified that the crowd was yelling slurs at the women, as has been alleged by other witnesses, but then said the interaction seemed more friendly.

"I thought she knew them," Huff said. "She was laughing. They were laughing."

He said one or two people were throwing things at the girls, and that the victim in the red dress had thrown a newspaper and oranges back. He said someone kicked her in the back of the leg, and she turned around and slapped someone.

Then the beating started. He said the woman in the red dress was still standing when he got to her, and he pushed a group of girls off of her. One girl cursed him out and kicked him in the leg, and then jumped into a red car with her friends and drove off, he testified. The minors on trial were arrested later that night in two red cars seen leaving the scene.

On Tuesday, defense attorney Darrell Goss complained that his client was one of three defendants whose names were included in a Times article about the case. The defendants had turned 18 since their arrest, and The Times' policy is to identify adults involved in court proceedings. The judge said there was a court order, "and at this juncture [the names] are not to be published."

Asked for a copy of the order, Lee's clerk said she did not know if there was a written order.

Attorneys for The Times say an order restraining the news media from publishing the names would be unconstitutional, and they will ask the judge to clarify or lift his order.

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joe.mozingo@latimes.com

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