Trial of Man Who Shot at Alleged Drug Dealer Starts

Times Staff Writer

A Pacoima man who shot a woman he believed was selling drugs in front of his home was alternately described Monday as a coward and as a man who "became isolated and cornered" because of frustration with drug dealing in his neighborhood.

"You will see that this attack can best be characterized . . . as an attack of a coward and perhaps the worst type of coward, a coward with a gun who shoots an unarmed person," Deputy Dist. Atty. Harold S. Lynn said during opening statements in the trial of Joseph Calvin Grant, 58.

But defense attorney James E. Blatt said that evidence will show Grant to be "an ordinary man who lived in that neighborhood for 19 years . . . and tried very hard to do something, but became isolated and cornered."

Grant is charged with assault with a deadly weapon in the Nov. 8, 1987, shooting of Lelatta Parks, 29, at Montford Street and Welk Avenue. Grant has admitted shooting at Parks, whose right shoulder was grazed by a bullet from his .25-caliber pistol, Los Angeles police said.

Blatt characterized the case against Grant as "an American tragedy, a destruction of a neighborhood by the infestation of illegal drugs."

Grant had become "disgusted and demoralized" over three rock houses opening in his neighborhood and over his wife and children being approached by drug dealers, Blatt said. He said that Grant repeatedly complained to police and city officials about the sale of drugs in the neighborhood.

Blatt told the jury that Grant did not intend to injure Parks. He fired in her direction to scare her away from his neighborhood, the defense attorney said.

But Lynn said that Grant "had absolutely no legal right whatsoever . . . to shoot" Parks.

Parks has refused to testify against Grant, invoking her constitutional right against self-incrimination. Superior Court Judge Howard J. Schwab allowed Parks' testimony in a February preliminary hearing to be read to the jury.

She testified at the hearing that she was not selling drugs. She said she was on her way home and had stopped to talk to a friend in a car when she was shot.

After pleading guilty earlier this month to possession of drugs for sale, Parks is serving 180 days in jail. Her refusal to testify means that she will not be questioned about whether she was selling drugs on the day of the shooting, said Deputy Public Defender Marc A. Hentell.

Grant's trial is to continue today

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