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Evidence in melee case withheld, defense says

A witness in the Long Beach attack says police recorded an interview with him. That was news to defense attorneys.

December 21, 2006|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

A witness in the trial of 10 black youths charged with attacking three white women in a Halloween night melee in Long Beach testified Wednesday that police tape-recorded their interview with him, evidence that apparently was not turned over to the defense.

The revelation, which outraged some defense attorneys, came as lawyers on both sides continued to argue over whether the witness, Marice Huff, would be allowed to identify any of the minors on trial as attackers he saw that night.

Huff, a good Samaritan who broke up the crowd, could be a strong prosecution witness, because he apparently got a close view of the incident.

The defense, however, says Huff should not be allowed to identify the minors, because he told police on at least two occasions that he could not identify anyone amid the chaos.

Then, in a meeting Friday with Deputy Dist. Atty. Andrea Bouas, Huff was shown large color photographs of the 10 defendants, after which he offered details and said several took part in the attack.

Defense attorneys have argued that the identification procedure was "impossibly suggestive" and pointed out that police usually show witnesses "six packs," in which a suspect is featured with five other similar faces to avoid influencing their choice.

Judge Gibson Lee has not yet issued a ruling on the matter and intends to hear more testimony on it later this week.

Most of the testimony Wednesday afternoon came from Long Beach Police Officer Richard Austin, a 21-year veteran of the department.

Austin, who met with Huff on two occasions after the attack, testified that he never asked the witness to provide descriptions of female suspects. Nine of the 10 youths charged, ages 12 to 18, are females.

Then Huff, who was on the stand earlier this week, testified again Wednesday to answer questions about his visit to the district attorney's office and the pictures he was shown.

It was then that he said police recorded their first interview with him.

Defense attorneys -- all the youths have their own lawyers -- reacted visibly to the assertion.

"It's very significant. It's a discovery violation," said Frank Williams, one of the attorneys. "I need [the recording] now -- if it exists."

jessica.garrison@latimes.com

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