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Man Guilty in "Bumfights" Case

Jury decides Justin Brumfield is guilty of beating--but not trying to kill--two homeless men. Police said a DVD was the inspiration.

July 20, 2006|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles jury Wednesday convicted a 20-year-old Inglewood man of beating two homeless men with a baseball bat, but deadlocked on the more serious charge of attempted murder.

Afterward, some jurors hugged defendant Justin Edward Brumfield's adoptive mother, Laurel Simpson, a sixth-grade teacher, and told her they wished the best for her and her son.

Brumfield's attorney, Maynard Davis, had argued that Brumfield attacked the men last August after discovering that his biological mother was a homeless crack cocaine addict. Police had said he and a friend told them they were inspired by a "Bumfights" DVD depicting homeless people fighting.

The assault put Ernest Adams, 56, into a coma for three weeks and left him with permanent scars and the loss of sight in one eye.

Adams, who has since moved to a studio apartment in Little Tokyo and says he is studying to become a real estate broker, expressed some sympathy for Brumfield.

"I saw him -- he can't handle prison," he said. He also said Brumfield needs years of psychiatric care.

Brumfield's lawyer and family said they thought the verdict was fair.

"The kid did what he did, but it was no attempted murder," Davis said outside the courtroom.

Jurors declined to comment.

Simpson said her son was a "gentle person" whose favorite book was the "Joy Luck Club." But after he learned that his biological mother had been a drug addict and that he had been exposed to drugs in the womb, he became depressed, his lawyer said. He began searching for her. His high grades plummeted and he attempted suicide.

"It's a very sad case," Davis said.

The jury deliberated four days before finding Brumfield guilty on two counts of assault. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Samuel Ohta declared a mistrial Tuesday after jurors deadlocked 9 to 3 in favor of acquittal on the attempted murder charge.

Prosecutors will decide by Aug. 1 whether to retry him on that charge. Brumfield faces up to 11 years in prison for Wednesday's conviction.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Lebovich said he was pleased with the guilty verdicts. "The defendant will be held accountable for these horrific acts committed against some of those most vulnerable in our community," he said.

Brumfield's alleged accomplice, William Orantes, is set to go on trial Aug 9.

Police said the two men, then both 19, drove around downtown Los Angeles in the early hours of Aug. 16, hitting homeless people with baseball bats.

Police Chief William J. Bratton called the crime "vicious" and "cowardly."

Gerald McHenry, 38, was attacked about 2 a.m. while he slept on the sidewalk near 9th and Wall streets.

An hour and a half later, a security guard saw two men beating Adams in the head near 3rd and Flower streets. The guard followed them, alerting police, who found two aluminum bats in the car and arrested Orantes and Brumfield.

The attack outraged elected officials. Adams, who testified at Brumfield's trial, was in a coma for 21 days.

The beating left him with large dents in his skull. But after 19 years on the street, Adams, who has suffered delusions, said the attack motivated him to get off the streets.

He started receiving Social Security disability payments and applied for subsidized housing.

In March, he moved into the apartment in Little Tokyo, which he keeps clean and sparse except for stacks of academic books. With its simple furnishings, the dry pasta in the kitchenette and the neat line of Adams' shoes at the foot of the bed, it resembles the dorm room of a fastidious college student.

After learning of the verdict, he sat in a chair under a fan and looked at the ceiling.

"I have mixed feelings," he said.

He speculated that his attackers had been on drugs. Adams also said he thought that Brumfield's learning about his mother must have "unnerved him to the core." But he added, "It doesn't excuse what he's done."

Still, he said, prison would be hard. What Brumfield needs, he said, "is a mandatory 10 years in a psychiatrist's office."

Then Adams stood up. He wanted to get back to his desk to continue studying for his real estate broker exam.

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