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Judge: Prosecutors Won’t Have To Prove Racial Motivation in King Beating

January 23, 1993

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Prosecutors won’t have to prove that white policemen had a racial motivation for beating black motorist Rodney King, the federal judge who will preside over the officers’ civil rights trial ruled Friday. He said race wasn’t mentioned in the officers’ indictment.

U.S. District John G. Davies reversed his earlier position but didn’t explain in his three-page ruling why he changed his mind. Prosecutors and lawyers for the four officers had filed a blizzard of briefs on the issue.

King was beaten on March 3, 1991, after a car chase. The attack was videotaped by an amateur cameraman and its national broadcast sparked an outcry over police brutality.

There were claims the beating was racially motivated but in the officers’ state trial in Simi Valley last year, the prosecution instead stressed the brutality of the incident.

The officers - Theodore Briseno, Timothy Wind, Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell - were acquitted on most charges on April 29, 1992, sparking three days of rioting that left 53 people dead and nearly $1 billion in property damage.

Federal civil rights charges followed soon after, and the trial is expected to start Feb. 3.

The government maintained from the outset it didn’t have to prove racial animosity. Defense lawyers disagreed, contending that the officers would be acquitted because prosecutors wouldn’t be able to prove they were racists.

Davies ruled on Nov. 30 that race was an issue in the case.

On Friday, however, he said that ″alienage, color or race may be an element of an offense″ under federal civil rights law, ″but none of these factors is an element of the offense as charged in the indictment.″

The judge said elements that prosecutors must prove include that the officers acted under color of law, and that they willfully deprived King of his constitutional or other federally protected rights.

King, who didn’t testify at the state trial, said at first he remembered no racial comments but later gave interviews suggesting that racial epithets were used that night. He is expected to testify at the federal trial.

The judge’s ruling does not bar any mention of race in the trial but merely says it doesn’t have to be proven as a motivation. He has, however, already ruled out use of comments that one officer made an hour before the beating and which were interpreted as racial.

Harland Braun, attorney for Briseno, said he wasn’t discouraged by the ruling. ″We had wished that they had ruled the other way, of course, because we felt if they had, the case would have been dismissed,″ Braun said.

″But we essentially are still in the same position. Unless they can still prove a motive, such as a racial motive, the jurors aren’t going to convict.″

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