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Judge receives hate-crime case

Victims discuss intense reactions to trial and the attack. A verdict is expected Friday.

January 23, 2007|Joe Mozingo | Times Staff Writer

As the judge received the Long Beach hate-crime case Monday, two of the victims held an emotional news conference to discuss their beatings Halloween night and the rancor the racially charged case has inspired.

Judge Gibson Lee, who will decide the case, said he would try to have a verdict by Friday afternoon.

Ten black youths, ages 12 to 18, are charged with assault with intent to cause great bodily harm in the attack on three young white women. Eight of them face a hate-crime sentencing enhancement if they are found guilty. Juvenile courts do not have juries.

During the news conference, Michelle Smith, 19, choked up as she described seeing her friend, Laura Schneider, lying on the ground. Smith said she thought Schneider was dead.

"I looked down on the ground and saw a guy kicking her head in," she said, crying. "What would you think?"

Neither Schneider, 19, who also attended the conference, nor Smith testified in the case. According to police reports, Schneider told officers she recognized three of the minors as having taken part in the attack. Smith could not identify any of them, the reports said.

But in the news conference, both said they were certain that all 10 were guilty because they had all been identified by an eyewitness or by the third victim, Loren Hyman, 21.

Schneider said she would attend the verdict and hoped for the "harshest punishment possible."

"They're not babies," Smith said. "They know what they did."

"They're denying they did anything," Schneider said. "If that were my child, I would want her to take responsibility and learn from something like this."

Smith said she is worried about retaliation, but doesn't like the implication that she is on a side in a racial rift.

"Two of my best friends are black; how can this be about race?"

Schneider said she has dropped out of school because she doesn't feel comfortable in public any more. She said she has "slurred speech and trouble remembering things."

In court, a physician testified that Schneider may have suffered a concussion from getting hit in the head with a skateboard. Hyman suffered a broken nose and fractures to three delicate bones around her eye.

There was no evidence presented of injuries to Smith.

The two women downplayed testimony that Hyman was fighting back that night. "I think self-defense is different than fighting," Schneider said.

In their closing arguments, defense attorneys seized on many such inconsistencies.

But primarily, they assailed the police procedure by which the youths were identified while detained in a Ralphs parking lot within 20 minutes of the beating.

On Monday, attorney Frank Williams Jr. charged that the police were "criminally negligent" by not asking the witnesses for a description of the attackers and by telling them, "We caught 'em," just before showing them the 10 minors.

Williams noted that the prosecution's key witness, Kiana Alford, was able to identify eight of the 10 minors that night, but unable to describe or identify any other suspects, even though she testified that up to 30 boys and girls were involved.

Williams said the transcript of a police interview with Alford showed how officers tried to "inseminate" details into her mind, such as whether the suspects were wearing a gang color.

According to the transcript, obtained by The Times, the officer said, "Were they displaying red?"

Alford answered: "Um-hmm."

Officer: "Besides the red cars?"

Alford: "Um-hmm."

Officer: "They have red flags on ... or.... "

Alford: "No, they didn't have any rags or nothing.... "

Officer: "Red shirts?"

None of the 10 minors on trial was wearing red.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Andrea Bouas, in her rebuttal, emphasized that Hyman's cellphone -- knocked from her hand during the melee -- was found with the minors.

joe.mozingo@latimes.com

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