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Long Beach judge won't hear hate case

Saying he's already prejudged the evidence, a jurist removes himself from trial of two teens.

February 16, 2007|Louis Sahagun | Times Staff Writer

A Long Beach Juvenile Court judge on Thursday removed himself from criminal proceedings against two 15-year-old black youths accused of participating in the mob beatings of three young white women on Halloween.

During a pretrial hearing, Judge Gibson Lee took himself off the case on the grounds that he has prejudged the evidence, given that he has already presided over the trial and sentencing of nine other black youths convicted in the assault.

All of the youths were convicted on felony assault charges, and eight were convicted on a hate-crime enhancement.

They were sentenced to probation and 250 hours of community service.

Lee also ordered them to undergo anger management therapy and enroll in a racial tolerance program.

A 10th defendant, a 12-year-old girl, was acquitted on all charges.

The two boys who appeared in court Thursday were to remain under house arrest pending trial sometime in spring.

A second pretrial hearing in their case was scheduled for March 8.

Both are from Jordan High School in Long Beach and were identified as having been involved in the incident by one of the youths already sentenced in the case.

Authorities discovered pieces of a skateboard that prosecutors say may have been used in the attack in the home of one of the youths.

If found guilty, the youths could face a tougher sentence from a new judge than the other defendants received from Lee.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Andrea Bouas, the prosecutor in the case, said she has begun discussing a possible plea agreement with their defense attorneys.

In an interview outside the courtroom, Bouas said, "We discussed whether their clients would be willing to plead. Are we close to an agreement? I would say no."

Defense attorney R. Stephen Bolinger, in an interview, agreed and said, "They haven't made an offer, and I'm preparing to go to trial."

Bolinger also suggested a defense strategy: It would be hard for witnesses to credibly place his client in the chaos at the time of the beatings.

"Things were happening that night faster than the brain can process," he said. "People don't pay close attention in a situation like that. It's dark, and there are 30 people there. It's Halloween, and people are dressed up in costumes.

"It's hard to focus on just one thing," he added, "where there appears to be 10 to 15 people beating someone up."

In another matter, a relative of one of the victims said that a youth who was convicted in the case may have violated terms of her probation by participating in a recent high school track event.

The girl in question, a 17-year-old nationally known track star, was accused during the trial of punching one of the victims and banging her head into a tree. She was sentenced along with most of the defendants to 60 days house arrest, and barred from competing in track events during this period.

Scott Bailey, whose 19-year-old sister, Laura Schneider, was hit in the back of the head with a skateboard, then beaten and kicked on the ground while unconscious, said, "It was enough of a slap in the face when the convicted youths were allowed to go home on the day of sentencing. Now, they're back on the track field."

In an interview, Bouas said, "We spoke to the probation officer about that, and the matter has been cleared up.

"I don't believe the probation officer understood that there was to be no running," Bouas said.

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louis.sahagun@latimes.com

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