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Verdict in Chicago Beating Case

September 19, 1998

CHICAGO (AP) _ Eighteen months ago, a 13-year-old black boy was left crumpled and comatose in a Chicago street, the victim of a beating police said was motivated by race.

One of three white men charged with the attack, Frank Caruso Jr., 19, was jailed late Friday after a jury acquitted him of attempted murder but found him guilty of aggravated battery.

Caruso also was found guilty of hate crimes for punching the boy, Lenard Clark, and a schoolmate Clevon Nicholson, 14. He faces up to 13 years in prison at sentencing Oct. 13.

``We’re gratified that the jury in this case sent a strong message that this community won’t tolerate hate-motivated violence,″ Cook County prosecutor Richard Devine said after the verdict.

Prosecutors plan to try two more white men accused of participating in the March 1997 beating next month. Like Caruso, they were charged with attempted murder, aggravated battery and a hate crime.

The case touched a nerve in this city and focused national attention on Chicago’s lingering racial tensions. It brought a denunciation of racial violence from President Clinton in his weekly radio address.

Jurors were in tears as prosecutor Bob Berlin described how Lenard had to relearn some of the simplest functions in life at the age of 13 and still remains brain damaged. The suspect’s mother collapsed in the Cook County Criminal Courts Building on Thursday.

Caruso’s attorneys argued police wrongly blamed him in a hasty effort to solve the case. Prosecutors called him a bully and a racist.

``Have the courage, ladies and gentlemen, to deal with the hard facts that evil men like Frank Caruso confront us with,″ Berlin urged jurors.

Nicholson testified that he and Lenard went to Bridgeport to play football with boys they knew there when they encountered young men coming from two directions. He said that Caruso first punched him on the side of the head, then hit Lenard.

The boy said he ran off and took refuge in a mass transit station. He couldn’t see what happened next to his friend on the street not far from Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox.

Lenard was left so badly brain damaged by the pummeling that he had to relearn how to take a shower and brush his teeth during six weeks in a hospital. Lenard now attends a special school but is having both emotional and academic problems as a result of the beating.

Prosecutors said Caruso preyed on black youngsters when they came into the Bridgeport area _ a white, blue-collar enclave across an expressway from a predominantly black public housing project.

``He is a violent racist street punk,″ prosecutor Ellen Mandeltort told jurors. She highlighted the racial overtones of the case, saying tormenting black youngsters was ``a sport″ among neighborhood teens.

Caruso attorney Ed Genson urged jurors to set aside emotions in weighing the evidence. ``I’m begging you not to try to solve racial problems with your verdict,″ he said.

Noting that several jurors cried when Berlin showed them a photo of Clark in Cook County Hospital after the beating, Genson said crying was understandable.

``That picture makes me cry,″ he said. ``The emotion engendered by the attack on this little boy ought to make anybody cry.″

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