Defense attorneys shake King story He isn't positive of racial epithets


LOS ANGELES -- Under relentless cross-examination by defense attorneys, Rodney King admitted he lied in the past about some aspects of his beating, and he testified he is not now sure if the police officers who beat and kicked him used racial epithets.

Saying he initially denied that racial slurs were used at the request of his mother, Mr. King said yesterday that his testimony the previous day was the truth but he couldn't be sure whether the officers were saying "nigger" or "killer" as he was taunted during his violent arrest on March 3, 1991.

Mr. King, during his second day on the witness stand, also said he was unsure whether one of the officers told him, "We're going to kill you nigger, run" before he rose from the ground and tried to escape -- a move captured on the first few seconds of the amateur videotape of the beating.

But the 27-year-old construction worker vigorously rejected attempts by defense attorneys to paint him as a lying opportunist who chose to play on the racial symbolism of the case to improve his chances of getting a multimillion-dollar settlement from the city of Los Angeles.

"I don't know how the law works," said Mr. King. "I only want to tell the truth the best way I remember it . . . There was points where I told a lie, but I'm not pleased about it at all."

Mr. King, who spent nearly 1 1/2 days on the witness stand before being excused without redirect questioning by the government, left the courtroom shielded by U.S. marshals and did not acknowledge questions from reporters.

Outside court, defense attorneys claimed Mr. King's retreat from some of the most dramatic testimony he offered Tuesday during his first appearance in open court was proof of a successful attack on his credibility.

"I feel very good, I feel like I did what I needed to do . . . to point out if he has a stake in the outcome, he will lie and to show he has no consistent statement, even on the same day," said Michael Stone, attorney for Officer Laurence Powell.

Despite the emotional impact of Mr. King's testimony this week -- which described his pain and fear during the beating -- its impact will fade as the weeks go by, said Harland Braun, attorney for Officer Ted Briseno.

"I think he's probably irrelevant to the case," Mr. Braun said. "I think the jury will go back to the videotape [to reach a verdict]."

Officers Powell, Briseno and former Officer Timothy Wind are charged with violating Mr. King's civil rights by willfully using excessive force during his arrest.

Sgt. Stacey Koon is charged with allowing the unlawful assault to take place. All four defendants face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Despite the six-hour-long barrage of questions yesterday from all four defense attorneys, Mr. King -- dressed in a brown, double-breasted suit, white shirt and dark tie -- never lost his composure, although he frequently asked for questions to be repeated and often paused for long periods before answering.

Presented with a succession of transcripts of previous interviews and grand jury testimony during his cross-examination, Mr. King also appeared to have trouble reading, asking attorneys to read the excerpts out loud.

"I can't read it," the 11th-grade dropout said of one transcript handed him by Paul DePasquale, Mr. Wind's attorney.

Under cross-examination, Mr. King was forced to concede he was uncertain about several key points on which he had testified -- usually explaining that "sometimes I forget a lot of things that happen, and sometimes I remember things."

On other occasions, Mr. King turned aside questions about a contradictory statement by claiming he didn't remember making the statement.

"I was so confused at that point," he said at one point.

But when asked about the officers' use of racial slurs, he admitted he initially concealed his recollection in five months of interviews with law enforcement agencies and reporters.

"When I was in the hospital, my mother came to visit me," Mr. King said. "She told me, 'We all know what went on. You don't need to make this a big issue.' So I thought I'd keep my mouth hush."

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