Defense Tries to Put Rodney King on Trial, But Latest Witness Backfires
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Jurors in the Rodney King beating trial were warned early on that King isn’t on trial. Yet they have heard him described as having ″hulk-like strength″ and compared to a ″Tasmanian devil.″
They have also seen a California Highway patrolwoman in tears on the witness stand as she described King having his head smashed by the baton of Officer Laurence Powell.
King testified that while he was irreverent, he never resisted arrest.
What really happened on March 3, 1991?
To prove the four officers on trial violated King’s civil rights, prosecutors must show the force they used was excessive for the situation.
After four and a half weeks of testimony, jurors must balance Sgt. Stacey Koon’s image of King as an ″incredible hulk″ with King’s testimony, which suggested the patrolwoman, Melanie Singer, could have handcuffed him if police hadn’t intervened.
King’s testimony disagreed with most witness accounts and jurors could decide that King’s memory is too fuzzy to rely upon.
Mrs. Singer was the only witness to say she saw Powell strike King in the head, a move forbidden by the Los Angeles Police Deparment because it can be deadly.
She described a bizarre suspect, who, after a high-speed car chase, danced, waved to a police helicopter overhead and shook his buttocks at her.
But to Koon, King was a ″a monster-like figure akin to a Tasmanian devil″ that he had seen in a cartoon of a PCP suspect in a police training bulletin. Koon said the image was with him as he ordered officers to beat King repeatedly after firing at King with an electronic stun gun.
Koon remembered King as incredibly strong, with a glassy stare, a sign of intoxication from the drug PCP.
″The look that he gave me was that he looks at you and looks right through you,″ he said. ″It’s a bizarre look. On the street I had seen it many times before in drug suspects.″
Although tests showed no PCP in King’s system, the defense has made the drug the centerpiece of its case. Defense lawyers claim that a person on PCP has superhuman strength that has proved deadly to officers.
They say just the suspicion of PCP was justification for beating King into submission. One witness, school police Officer Paul Beauregard said the baton ″didn’t seem to have too much effect on him. He was just standing there as if he didn’t know he was being hit.″
Koon and Powell are on trial with Officer Theodore Briseno and former Officer Timothy Wind in the beating captured on videotape and broadcast worldwide. They each face 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.
The officers, who are white, were found innocent of most assault charges in state court a year ago. Those verdicts in the beating of King, who is black, touched off the worst riots in Los Angeles history.
Mrs. Singer acknowledged King’s behavior was bizarre. She burst into tears Friday when she recalled Powell’s metal baton striking King’s head.
″I saw the blood come out of the side of his cheek,″ she said. ″I heard the driver scream ... the driver then clasped both hands over his face as Officer Powell came forward and took another power swing.″
As she showed King’s cowering posture, jurors watched closely.
Powell said outside court that he agreed with his attorney, Michael Stone, in calling Mrs. Singer to the witness stand. He said Mrs. Singer’s outburst showed ″she was so upset that she didn’t know what she saw.″
But prosecutors were smiling as they left the courthouse for the weekend. And other defense attorneys said Stone undermined their efforts.
″I have no idea why he’s doing this,″ co-counsel Harland Braun said of Stone. ″Anything that hurts Powell hurts us.″