Jury acquits defendants of most counts in beating



LOS ANGELES (AP)—Two blacks were acquitted Monday of most of the felony charges in the beating of white trucker Reginald Denny and other motorists at the start of the 1992 riots, easing fears of renewed racial tensions.

The multiracial jury ended the day still deadlocked on the most serious count—attempted murder against defendant Damian ‘‘Football’‘ Williams in the videotaped attack of Denny—and deadlocked on an assault count against Henry Watson.

Superior Court Judge John Ouderkirk ordered the jury to resume deliberations Tuesday, saying he hoped that a ‘‘good night’s rest’‘ would be helpful.

The jury convicted the defendants of lesser counts. It first told Ouderkirk it was deadlocked on three charges. He told jurors to continue deliberating and hours later, it found Williams innocent of a robbery charge.

Accepting the defense argument that Williams and Watson were caught up in mob violence after the state Rodney King beating trial, the jurors acquitted them of most charges that required specific intent.

Defense psychologists testified that Williams, 20, and his 29-year-old co-defendant acted in the heat of the moment and couldn’t have planned their actions.

Their heads newly shaven, Williams and Watson sat calmly as the verdicts were read, except when the clerk announced ‘‘Not Guilty’‘ on an aggravated mayhem charge against Williams, which could have brought him life in prison. Williams clapped his hands over his eyes, reared back in his seat and hugged his attorney.

The jury convicted Williams on simple mayhem, with a maximum penalty of up to eight years in prison.

In the charges decided against him, Watson was acquitted of all but simple assault on Denny, a lesser related offense that carries only a year in county jail rather than prison. The jury rejected the charge that Watson, who has been held since shortly after the riots, tried to kill Denny, the count that could have brought him life in prison.

‘‘I am in total agreement (with the jurors),’‘ Denny told the TV tabloid show ‘‘Inside Edition.’‘ ‘‘They should let the guy go. He spent a year-and-a-half in jail and has had time to think about what happened.’‘

He said he wouldn’t comment on Williams until the jury finished deliberating.

As the verdicts were read, Watson’s mother, Joyce, sat in the courtroom’s front row, stifling sobs with a handkerchief after Ouderkirk had warned the audience against outbursts.

Williams, who gained fame when he was personally arrested by former Police Chief Daryl Gates, was acquitted of eight counts.

Gates, now a radio personality, denounced the verdicts as unjust.

‘‘We know they’re guilty. But I understand this is our system,’‘ Gates said.

The new police chief, Willie Williams, said he was pleased with community response, which remained generally calm.

And in South Central Los Angeles, scene of the worst rioting, the Rev. Leonard Jackson of First AME Church said: ‘‘There is a sense of calm and there is a sense of true justice. We saw justice working at its best.’‘

The jury initially was hung up on whether Williams personally used a deadly weapon, a concrete block, to strike Denny in the head—a special allegation. And they disagreed on the key charge of attempted murder of Denny.

The panel also was undecided whether Williams had robbed Takao Hirata and whether Watson committed assault with a deadly weapon against another trucker, Larry Tarvin.

Denny, whose beating was broadcast live on national TV, provided the trial’s most dramatic moment—which jurors never saw. He left the stand and threw his arms around the mothers of Watson and Williams who returned his embrace in a scene of reconciliation.

During the early hours of the rioting, Denny was pulled from his gravel-hauling truck at the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues and beaten bloody.

Prosecutors played that and other tapes for jurors, focusing again and again on the sight of Williams apparently doing a dance over Denny’s battered body.

Jury deliberations were tumultuous and seemed headed for mistrial at one point. The judgeremoved one panelist for lacking the common sense to deliberate; another juror left for personal problems. The panel had to restart its talks three times, and the final jury talked only 2^4 days before returning verdicts. The final jury had four blacks, four Hispanics, two whites and two Asians.

A Williams family spokesman, Don Jackson, said, ‘‘We are elated with the fact that the jury came back and did not find guilty on the most serious charges. Damian Williams will not be spending life in prison.’‘

Williams’ mother, Georgiana, declined comment and used a squirt bottle of water to fend off photographers and reporters who tried to approach her.

Watson’s father, Henry Sr., told a reporter: ‘‘I don’t give interviews. Do you have 10 grand?’‘

The trial carried racial overtones, with the defendants’ supporters claiming they were treated more harshly than the white officers in the King beating. After acquittals in state court, two of those officers were convicted in a second federal court trial in April of violating King’s civil rights and have begun serving 30-month prison terms.

Another defendant, Antoine Miller, remains to be tried in the case. His lawyer, James Gillen, who was in court, said the district attorney should drop charges and agree to time served.

On the streets, police had beefed up patrols as a precaution but officials said they expected no trouble.