A jury found police officer William Lozano guilty of two counts of manslaughter Thursday in the deaths of two black men last January. The verdict in the highly charged trial sent shock waves of surprise and relief through Miami, a city that for days had been braced for a riot if an acquittal were handed down.
"In the past, the system had never worked for the black community," said Willie Sims, crisis coordinator of the Dade County Community Relations Board. "Today it worked. It's my personal feeling that justice has been served."
That feeling was widespread throughout much of Miami's black community. "This is an extraordinary, even historic, verdict," said Marvin Dunn, a sociology professor at Florida International University who has studied Miami's bloody record of civil unrest in this decade. "This kind of case almost always goes in the favor of police officers."
The verdict was read to a packed courtroom and over live television to all of South Florida at 12:50 p.m., two hours after the jury first signaled that a decision had been reached. The reading was held up while security at the courthouse was tightened and police units were readied for possible action.
Lozano, 31, was accused of deliberately firing at an oncoming motorcycle ridden by Clement Lloyd, 23, and passenger Allan Blanchard, 24. Lloyd was killed instantly by a bullet to the head; Blanchard died of injuries the next day. Lozano contended that he had shot in self- defense. The deaths touched off three days of rioting in the city's predominantly black Overtown section.
Lozano, a short, dark-haired man with a pudgy face, remained expressionless as the clerk read out the verdict: guilty on one count of manslaughter with a firearm, guilty on one count of manslaughter without a firearm.
Lozano's wife, Ana, broke into tears, and one of his three brothers looked stricken. That brother and Lozano's wife also are Miami police officers.
Lozano's defense attorney, Roy Black, had his head down and his hands folded as if in prayer.
In Black's office afterward, Lozano--still very composed--said, "I was not given a fair trial from the beginning. There was a lot of evidence denied and quashed."
Sentencing was set for Jan. 24, when Lozano could face a maximum of 30 years in prison on the most serious charge. Conviction of a charge of manslaughter with a gun carries a three-year minimum sentence in Florida. Meanwhile, he remains free on $10,000 bond.
The trial began with jury selection on Oct. 23, but for weeks prior to that expectations had been rising that, if Lozano were acquitted of the charges, the black community would erupt in violent protest.
In 1980, the acquittal by an all-white jury of several police officers charged with beating to death another black motorcyclist resulted in a vicious three-day riot in which 18 persons died.
In 1982, violent street protests broke out after another black man was shot to death in Overtown by a Latino police officer. And rioting erupted two years later when that officer, Luis Alvarez, was found not guilty by an another all-white jury, which had heard an impassioned defense by Roy Black.
The Lozano case--although haunted by violence, and the threat of more violence, from the start--was different. Dade Circuit Judge Joseph Farina seemed determined to see an ethnically balanced jury seated, and he did. There were two blacks, one Latino and three Anglos--two men and four women.
One of the blacks--Ezra Simmons, a 61-year-old vice president of a mail handlers' union who lives in Miami's Liberty City--was elected foreman. He was also the man Black tried hard to keep off the panel.
During jury selection, Black opted to excuse Simmons, using one of his peremptory challenges. But Farina ruled that the move was racially motivated. Black, contending that the man was biased against Latinos, appealed the judge's order to a higher court. The judge's ruling was sustained.
"It's a bitter irony," Black said, "that the man we most feared ended up being the foreman."
The rulings by Farina and the state appeals court are sure to form the basis of the appeal Black said he would file.
Assistant State Atty. John Hogan, who prosecuted, said on the steps of the courthouse after the trial: "I take no pleasure in convicting a police officer, but I take a great deal of pleasure in realizing the system works."
Miami Police Chief Perry Anderson, who himself is black, said he understood that "it's a difficult time for some of the individuals who have worked with this particular officer to accept the verdict, but I think they are professionals and will continue to be professionals . . . ."
But Richard Kinne, head of the police union that represents most of Miami's 1,093 officers, said that "most of my members are in shock. We all felt William Lozano was justified" in using deadly force.
When asked about the average officer's reaction, Kinne added: "He's seriously thinking what he's going to do in a life-threatening situation. He could become concerned and hesitant out in the street."
The case began early on the night of Jan. 16, when Lozano and his partner were stopped on a street in Overtown. While Lozano searched the trunk of his squad car for a report form, a motorcycle being pursued by a police car because of a traffic violation roared toward him. Lozano stepped into the street, pulled out his 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol and fired a single shot, killing Lloyd.
Lozano contended that he had had no time to escape being hit by the motorcycle. "I thought he was going to run me down," he said from the witness stand. "I thought I was a dead person."
But the prosecution contended that Lozano, violating police training and common sense, stepped into the path of the motorcycle, aimed, tracked the driver in his sights and fired when the vehicle drew near.
"It's hard to believe a police officer could do something so stupid," said Hogan in his closing arguments Tuesday. "But this man, on Jan. 16, pulled the trigger of a gun and snuffed out two lives."
The 58 witnesses who testified gave often-conflicting accounts of what they had seen and heard.
But the case apparently held no particular confusion for the jurors. They deliberated for a little more than seven hours before reaching a verdict.
Throughout Miami Thursday morning, the air was electric with tension and anticipation.
Many teachers allowed their students to watch the courtroom proceedings from classroom television sets. Some radio stations urged people to drive with their lights on in a collective plea to refrain from violence once the decision became known.
The halls of the county courthouse were jammed with reporters, lights and cameras, along with scores of curious people. Police officers, on alert and working 12-hour shifts since Tuesday, seemed to be everywhere.
"I'm optimistic we're not going to have any problems," said Miami police spokesman David Rivero a few minutes before the jury filed back into the courtroom. "I think this community is going to act responsibly."
But, in fact, there were a few problems Wednesday night as rumors that Lozano has been acquitted swept the community. Sporadic stone- and bottle-throwing was reported at one Overtown intersection, and a few blocks away a car was set afire.
After the verdict, police remained on alert. But, in the black communities of Overtown and Liberty City, especially, tension had given way to a celebration ignited by the feeling that justice had been served.
"This is a time for rejoicing," said Billy Hardamon, leader of a group called People United for Justice.
In the Latino community, there was disappointment and anger but no sign of street protests. Latinos in Miami are a majority and play a much bigger role in the power structure than do blacks.