Jury Sworn in Rodney King Videotaped Beating Case With PM-Taped Beating-Jurors
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A lawyer threw the trial of four officers acccused in the videotaped Rodney King beating into turmoil today, saying an excused juror told him of possibly prejudicial remarks by a black woman seated on the jury.
Attorney Ira Salzman told the court the excused federal juror, a reserve policeman who works for the telephone company, called early today to tell him that the woman spoke disdainfully of defense lawyers, blaming them for a racially unbalanced jury in the police officers’ previous trial in state court.
″With this new information I cannot accept this jury as constituted,″ said Salzman, who represents Sgt. Stacey Koon. He demanded an inquiry.
U.S. District Judge John G. Davies ordered that the excused juror be located and brought to court later in the day to testify about what he heard.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Clymer angrily denounced the revelation.
″This is an attempt to provoke a mistrial after the jury is sworn because the defense is unhappy with the composition of the jury,″ said Clymer.
The jurors - nine whites, two blacks and a Hispanic - were sworn in Monday and ordered to return to court Wednesday for opening statements. There were no blacks on the jury that acquitted the officers of most charges in state court in suburban Simi Valley.
Salzman said the man who called him today said the woman pointed out while they were in the prospective jury pool together that there had been no blacks on the Simi Valley jury. He said the man reported that ″she believed it was because of what the defense did. She said in her opinion the defense would do the exact same thing here.″
″He also advised it was his impression she was disdainful in tone about the defense efforts,″ said Salzman.
All of the jurors told the court that the prospect of renewed rioting because of their verdicts wouldn’t intimidate them. And all but one saw the videotape made by an onlooker of police kicking and clubbing the black motorist.
The jurors will be sequestered at a hotel during the trial, which is expected to take two months, and the judge said their identities will be kept secret. Three alternate jurors were to be selected today.
The jury that acquitted the officers of nearly all state assault charges in suburban Simi Valley last spring was made up of 10 whites, a Filipino and a Hispanic. Its verdict touched off rioting in Los Angeles that left 54 people dead and more than $1 billion in damage.
Many in the community had argued that justice as well as public confidence in the legal system and in the legitimacy of the verdict demands a multi- racial jury.
On the fifth and final day of jury questioning, defense lawyers unsuccessfully tried to dismiss one of the two black panelists. He remained after the judge ruled the challenge was based on race, which is impermissible.
A defense bid to block a government challenge of a white man was rejected by the judge, who said there was a ″race-neutral explanation″ for the challenge. The man was a former National Guardsman who helped police the city’s Watts area during the race riots of 1965.
Jurors were kept unaware of the final wrangling over the panel’s racial composition.
Koon, Officers Laurence Powell and Theodore Briseno and former Officer Timothy Wind are accused of violating King’s civil rights and could get to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. King was beaten after a freeway chase in 1991.
The eight men and four women on the jury include a welder, a former security guard and a real-estate salesman. The black jurors are a postal clerk and a former Marine. The last man seated was a young Hispanic store clerk who startled lawyers by saying he had never seen the King videotape.
The prospective jurors also filled out 53-page questionnaires on their background and their attitudes on race and law enforcement. But the judge ordered the questionnaires sealed.
″I’m pleased with the jury,″ Salzman said earlier. ″I think they’re fair considering public opinion and the way it stands.″
The judge ordered the jurors ″not to discuss the fact that you have been selected as a juror in this case with anyone. I guess you have to tell your spouses, but I ask you to tell them not to reveal that fact to any other person.″
He told them to stop reading newspapers and tuning in to television and radio until they are locked up at the hotel.
Meanwhile, a federal appeals court overturned a Feb. 4 order by Davies that barred Briseno’s lawyer from publicly criticizing the prosecution. The American Civil Liberties Union appealed on behalf of Harland Braun.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 that the restraints violate the First Amendment.