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Officer gets new trial because jury watched ‘Malcolm X’

August 1, 1997

LANSING, Mich. (AP) _ The movie ``Malcolm X″ may have unfairly influenced jurors who saw it during a break from deliberations in the trial of a white Detroit police officer convicted of beating a black man to death.

The Michigan Supreme Court ordered a new trial Thursday for Walter Budzyn, who was convicted of second-degree murder in the November 1992 slaying of Malice Green.

The conviction of a second white officer, Larry Nevers, was upheld because the court said the evidence of his guilt was overwhelming and far outweighed whatever influence the movie may have had.

In a taped statement played at his attorney’s office, Budzyn thanked the court ``for finally doing justice in my case.″

Wayne County officials said it was too early to say if Budzyn will be retried. His attorney, Carole Stanyar, said she will seek his release on bond from a federal prison in Texas.

Nevers is serving 12 to 25 years and Budzyn eight to 18 years.

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.″

Watching the movie, ``with its forceful words and images,″ may have undermined the jury’s ability to impartially examine the case, 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.

Prosecutors said officers beat Green with flashlights as he sat in a car outside a suspected crack house after he refused to show them what he was holding in his hand.

Green, 35, died a short time after the beating. Prosecutors said severe blows to the head caused his death, while defense attorneys maintained he died from cocaine intoxication.

The justices said the case against Budzyn was not as clear-cut as that against Nevers. Three witnesses testified that they did not see Budzyn actually hit Green’s head with a flashlight.

The cases were tried together by separate juries, both of which saw the movie.

Nevers declined to comment. But his wife, Nancy, said 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. ``This denial for a fair trial for Larry Nevers is an obscene miscarriage of justice.″

Four days after Green’s death, Young told NBC News: ``A young man who was under arrest was literally murdered by police.″

Young spokesman Bob Berg did not return telephone calls seeking comment late Thursday.

Update hourly