A lawyer in the upcoming trial of members of the Ecclesia Athletic Assn. charged in the death of the group leader’s daughter says he will attempt to prove that beating did not cause the child’s death.
“A pathologist will testify that, in his opinion, some other things happened that night that may have caused the death of Dayna Broussard,” defense attorney Ron Thom said Sunday. “It was not a result of any violent act.”
After five weeks of questioning potential jurors, attorneys are near agreement on the jury and ready to begin the trial of four group members charged with manslaughter in the death of the 8-year-old.
The Los Angeles-based group’s stated aim was to rescue ghetto youngsters through discipline, but critics say the children were often mistreated, even beaten hundreds of times.
Children in Foster Homes
Meanwhile, 51 children taken from the group after Dayna Lorea Broussard died five months ago remain in foster homes. Two others are living with relatives. The children were taken from a farmhouse the group was renting near Sandy, in the foothills of Mt. Hood east of Portland.
There has been no public word from Eldridge Broussard Jr., the group’s founder and self-proclaimed savior of ghetto youth from Los Angeles, since he ended a 40-day personal retreat March 12.
Since Feb. 13, four court-appointed lawyers have been questioning potential jurors four days a week in a mostly deserted courtroom at the Clackamas County Courthouse.
The defendants--Willie K. Chambers, Brian J. Brinson, Frederick P. Doolittle and Constance Z. Jackson--sit quietly in the second row of the gallery, occasionally passing notes to their lawyers.
Thom said the lawyers were likely to settle on 12 jurors and two to four alternates in the coming week, and opening arguments could begin a week from today
Broussard, 36, made emotional appearances on local radio and television talk shows. He wept before a national audience on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and pleaded with Winfrey to help him. He first accused the media of “murder in the first degree” in his daughter’s death. Later, Broussard simply denied that his daughter was beaten to death.
He dropped out of sight as jury selection began, and said he planned to reflect on the group’s problems and sort out his own feelings.
Broussard formed Ecclesia at the Watts Christian Center in Los Angeles in 1975, saying he wanted to steer children away from drugs and crime and to motivate them through tough discipline and athletic training. At one time, he said he wanted to prepare the children to compete in the Olympics.
Thom said the defense team had not seen Broussard since he returned from his retreat. However, Broussard will be called to testify and is expected to appear, Thom said.
The Ecclesia children still in foster homes come from 16 families. Their parents, saying they wanted to protest what they called a violation of their constitutional rights, stopped visiting the children a month ago.