MIAMI -- After being shifted five times from one city t another, the racially charged retrial of a Miami police officer on charges of killing two young black men is scheduled to begin today in Orlando.
The case, which has preoccupied Florida for more than four years, has defied the efforts of Judge W. Thomas Spencer of Dade County Circuit Court to hold the trial where blacks are most likely to be on the jury. Orlando, where the second trial of the officer, William Lozano, has landed, is conservative, overwhelmingly white and none too happy to be saddled with what the rest of Florida views as Miami's problem.
Selection of a six-member jury is expected to last a week, with opening statements in mid-May. Mr. Lozano admits firing the shot that led to the deaths of the two men, but he maintains he acted in self-defense.
Mr. Lozano is charged in the deaths of a motorcycle driver who was shot and a passenger who died of injuries in the Overtown section of Miami in 1989. The deaths touched off three days of rioting in the city.
In his first trial, Mr. Lozano was convicted on two counts of manslaughter, but an appeals court overturned the verdict, saying the jurors might have been influenced by fears of further racial violence.
Public officials and leaders of citizens groups have warned that the retrial has so many echoes of the Rodney G. King case in Los Angeles that more racial unrest could be ignited if Mr. Lozano is acquitted.
Leaders of black civic groups have been especially critical of the decision to move the case from racially and ethnically diverse Miami to Orlando, which some call "the Simi Valley of Florida," in reference to the Southern California community where a state jury acquitted four Los Angeles police officers in the beating of Mr. King.
Mr. Lozano's new trial, which is to be televised, will offer a glimpse at the prosecutorial skills of Attorney General Janet Reno, who was state attorney for 15 years and oversaw the case until she left for Washington. Ms. Reno's office had a history of being reluctant to prosecute police officers involved in brutality cases.
As in the first trial, Mr. Lozano's defense will be led by Roy Black, who came to national attention in 1991 when he defended William Kennedy Smith in a widely publicized Palm Beach rape case. Mr. Smith was acquitted.
The Lozano case began Jan. 16, 1989, when the 33-year-old Hispanic police officer fired a single shot from his Glock pistol at a 23-year-old black motorcyclist who was being chased through the predominantly black Overtown section by another police officer. The cyclist, Clement A. Lloyd, died of a head wound, and his passenger, Allan Blanchard, died the next day of injuries he sustained when the motorcycle crashed.
Even as police were investigating the shooting, rioting erupted in predominantly black areas of Miami. Over the next three nights, arson, gunfire and looting resulted in one death, hundreds of injuries and arrests, and millions of dollars in damage.