New trial ordered in racial beating because jury watched 'Malcolm X'
Aug. 01, 1997
LANSING, Mich. (AP) _ A white Detroit police officer convicted of beating a black man to death was granted a new trial Thursday in part because the jury watched the movie ``Malcolm X'' during a break in deliberations.
Michigan's Supreme Court said the movie may have inflamed passions in the case of Malice Green, who was beaten by officers outside a suspected crack house after he refused to show them what he had in his hand.
The conviction of a second white officer was upheld because the court said the evidence of his guilt was overwhelming and far outweighed whatever influence the movie may have had on the jury.
The film opens by showing the videotaped beating of Rodney King with a voice-over from Malcolm X charging the white man with being ``the greatest murderer on Earth.''
The court said, ``The power of these words might have triggered an emotional response by the jury, because defendants' conduct, as alleged, could arguably fit the description given by Malcolm X's character.''
Watching the movie, ``with its forceful words and images,'' may have undermined the jury's ability to examine the defendant's credibility impartially, the court said.
In addition to the film, the court said the jury may also have been influenced by the suspension of the officers before the trial and the city's multimillion-dollar settlement with Green's estate.
The court reversed the second-degree murder conviction of Walter Budzyn, and upheld the conviction of Larry Nevers.
The justices said the case against Budzyn was not that clear-cut, noting that three witnesses testified they saw him hit Green's head with a flashlight.
The cases were tried together by separate juries, both of which saw the movie during a break in deliberations.
Budzyn said in a taped statement that he is looking forward to being reunited with his family. ``I also want to thank the Michigan Supreme Court for finally doing justice in my case,'' he said.
Nevers declined comment. But his wife, Nancy, said at a news conference that the ruling upholding his guilty verdict was racially motivated.
``The NAACP, (former Mayor) Coleman Young and a radical fringe in the city of Detroit have all won today,'' she said. ``They have succeeded in holding us hostage. ... This denial for a fair trial for Larry Nevers is an obscene miscarriage of justice.''
Green, 35, died a short time after the November 5, 1992, beating. Prosecutors maintained that severe blows to the head caused his death, while defense attorneys maintained he died from cocaine intoxication.
Green's father agreed with the court's decision.
``I feel he deserved a new trial,'' Jessie Green told WXYZ-TV. ``Everybody deserves a second chance.''