Los Angeles braces for Denny verdict Judge scheduled to list decisions


LOS ANGELES -- Roused by the announcement of partial verdicts in the Reginald O. Denny beating trial, a wary and weary city was bracing itself for the closing chapter in the tumultuous trial of two men accused of beating the trucker and others in South-Central Los Angeles.

Superior Court Judge John W. Ouderkirk was expected today to accept and make public nine of the verdicts reached by the jury so far in deliberations on 15 total charges against defendants Henry Keith Watson and Damian Monroe Williams.

In addition, Judge Ouderkirk said that he would decide today whether to order the jury to continue working on six deadlocked counts or to conclude deliberations and declare a mistrial on the unresolved charges.

Judge Ouderkirk's impending announcements prompted law enforcement and emergency agencies to begin a tentative mobilization in preparation for possible unrest following the verdicts.

Spokesmen for the Los Angeles Police and the county Sheriff's Departments said their agencies were beginning to gear up for pre-verdict deployment.

"You will see a heavy presence again," as occurred last spring before verdicts were read in the Rodney King civil rights trial," Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Cmdr. David J. Gascon said. "Even though we're not anticipating any problem, were going to be prepared for any eventuality."

Los Angeles city and county officials said they intended to activate their emergency operations centers, typically used during severe natural disasters, this morning.

Mayor Richard Riordan scheduled a meeting with Police Chief Willie Williams this morning to discuss verdict plans.

"We're prepared -- very much prepared for the verdicts to come out," Mr. Riordan said. The mayor would not say whether he plans to go on television again to address the city as he did immediately after the verdicts in the King civil rights trial.

Since the beginning of the Denny beating trial 2 1/2 months ago, the case has carried a power beyond the mere criminal issues at hand.

The attack on Mr. Denny, seen by millions across America on live television, has become a symbol for many people of the chaotic violence of last year's riots, which claimed 53 lives and left thousands injured. Few of the perpetrators have been arrested and even fewer convicted.

For others, the trial has come to stand as yet another disturbing symbol of the inequities of the criminal justice system.

The potential life sentences faced by Messrs. Williams and Watson, the judge's dismissal of a black juror last week for "failing to deliberate," and the long-standing defense contention that the defendants, both black, are scapegoats for the riots have created the perception that the system is hopelessly tainted.

At a community forum in South-Central Los Angeles yesterday, attended by more than 100 people, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., complained that the trial from the beginning "has been fraught with bizarre and inexplicable peculiarities."

The dismissal of the juror during deliberations "for ambiguous reasons, has called into question our simple and fundamental demand for fairness," the congresswoman said.

Mr. Williams' attorney, Edi M.O. Faal, criticized the judge at the forum, saying: "If there are any acquittals tomorrow it's not because the court has done the right thing. The court has done everything it could to bring about convictions."

The verdicts that so far have been reached by the jury cover five charges against Mr. Williams and four against Mr. Watson.

Defense attorneys were heartened Saturday by the fact that the jury was unable to reach a verdict in the most serious charges against Mr. Williams -- the attempted murder of Mr. Denny, which carries a life sentence.

But the deadlock may be of little consolation since Mr. Williams could still face a life sentence if convicted of aggravated mayhem.

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