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One-Year Maximum Sentence Given in Slaying of Actress’ Son

January 5, 1990 GMT

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ A Tongan man was sentenced today to a year in prison, the maximum sentence for his conviction of misdemeanor homicide in the death of the black son of a Hollywood actress in a trial that sparked racial tension.

John Leota also was ordered to pay restitution of more than $40,000 for the death of Malik Smith, the 18-year-old son of actress Beverly Todd and producer Kris Keiser.

Third District Judge Homer Wilkinson’s sentence was the maximum for the charge of negligent homicide. Leota, 19, also was sentenced to one year’s probation and 150 hours of community service for an assault charge involving another man.

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″I just want to express how sorry I am to the family.″ Leota said before sentencing. ″I know that what I did was wrong ... I didn’t know it was going to happen.″

The emotionally charged sentencing hearing drew an outburst from Todd, when defense attorney Phil Hansen told Wilkinson she had ″pulled the plug″ on the life-saving machine that kept her son’s body alive.

″That’s a lie,″ Todd said, ″Why would he say that?″ She then wept.

Keiser emphasized that life support equipment was not removed from Smith, of Los Angeles, until after two tests showed his son was brain-dead.

On Thursday, members of the Polynesian community here charged that ″wealthy Hollywood blacks″ were trying to deny Leota justice.

Entertainers such as Whoopi Goldberg and Jennifer Warren wrote letters to Wilkinson to protest the misdemeanor conviction of a defendant who was tried for second-degree murder.

Smith was fatally injured when he struck his head after being punched by Leota at a West Valley disco March 20. Leota testified Smith had embarrassed him but he did not mean to kill him when he hit him once and kicked him in the face.

Surrounded by about 20 members of the Polynesian community, attorneys Paul Schwenke, Filia Uipi and Victor Lawrence, a Samoan, Tongan and Hawaiian, respectively, blasted ″wealthy Hollywood blacks″ for ″trying to trample the civil rights of a John Leota.″

″These black entertainers who live in one of the most violent areas of the world outside of Beirut - L.A. County - have the arrogance to point their wealthy fingers at Utah and scream about injustice,″ Schwenke said at a news conference Thursday.

’We, the Polynesian community and citizens ofUtah, say to these celebrities, Utah is a law-abiding state. We demand you let the judicial process go forward. We do not want the legal process to be influenced in any way,″ he said.

A letter to the editor by Goldberg said she would ″spread the word of the dangers that lurk in your beautiful state.″

Schwenke did not feel there were racial issues surrounding the crime, but that racial issues were generated by comments from the victim’s family.

Upon sentencing, Wilkinson ordered Leota incarcerated in Salt Lake County Jail.