Judge Rules There Was No Jury-Tampering in Taped Beating Case
SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (AP) _ The judge presiding in the assault trial of four Los Angeles policemen refused a prosecution bid Friday to dismiss hundreds of potential jurors, saying he saw no proof of jury-tampering.
The four white officers are on trial for the March beating of black motorist Rodney King, which was recorded on videotape by a person nearby.
The ruling by Superior Court Judge Stanley Weisberg came after he heard testimony from three black prospective jurors and a former NAACP member, who who admitted he talked with several black jurors.
The judge banned the man, James H. Smith, from returning to the courthouse during the remainder of the trial.
″From what has been presented to me there does not appear to have been any contamination of the jury panel,″ the judge said.
The judge later ruled that the NAACP or any other group couldn’t wear armbands or other insignia expressing views on the trial in or around the courthouse. Prosecutors earlier protested the wearing of armbands to court by NAACP members, saying it could intimidate jurors.
Deputy District Attorney Terry White, who sought dismissal of all 207 panelists who were present Wednesday when Smith introduced himself to black prospects, disagreed with the ruling.
″We feel it is impossible to assess the damage done,″ White said. ″The entire panel from Wednesday is suspect to the point that we need to order in a new panel.″
Smith, whose conversations with prospective jurors spurred an official inquiry, testified he didn’t try to influence anyone and didn’t mention the name of the NAACP because he no longer belongs to the group.
He said he knew he was talking to potential jurors Wednesday, but insisted, ″It was just a friendly chit chat.″
His testimony conflicted with that of three panelists still on the prospective jury panel who said Smith indicated he was in court to observe for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Later Friday, a fourth black juror also said Smith introduced himself as being from the NAACP.
Sgt. Stacey Koon, 41, and officers Laurence Powell, 29, Timothy Wind, 31, and Theodore Briseno, 39, are charged with assault with deadly force under color of authority for the March 3, 1991, beating of King.
They face sentences of four to nearly eight years in prison if convicted.
The policemen on trial were videotaped by a bystander as they beat King, who has said they shouted racial epithets. The incident sparked public outrage over police brutality and charges of racism.
The case was moved to Ventura County because of the politically explosive impact it had in Los Angeles County. However, the new venue has a far smaller black population than Los Angeles, and NAACP leaders have expressed concern that there will be no blacks on the jury.
Only a handful of nearly 500 prospective jurors called over two days were black.