A Gardena man who was tried twice for murder for an allegedly threatening act that provoked a police officer to fire a shot that killed another man was acquitted of the charge Monday.
Mack Charles Moore, 28, had faced a sentence of 15 years to life if convicted on the single murder count, which stemmed from a March 24, 1989, drug raid on a Budlong Avenue apartment in Gardena.
Prosecutors Gilbert Garcetti and Irene Wakabayashi had tried to prove that Moore was guilty of second-degree murder under the state’s provocative act law. During the raid, one officer testified, Moore ignored warnings to drop a shotgun and instead swung it toward the officer, provoking him to fire a shot that killed another man, 20-year-old Dexter Herbert.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Gray argued that it was Herbert, not Moore, who was holding the gun when the officer fired the fatal shot.
Ultimately, jurors said the case could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt because neither of the other two police officers in the apartment at the time of the shooting could confirm who had the shotgun.
Shortly after the murder charge was filed against Moore, a South Bay Municipal Court judge threw out the case because of insufficient evidence. An appellate court later overturned that ruling, moving the case to trial.
Moore’s first trial in Torrance Superior Court ended in a mistrial three months ago after deliberations evolved into a public sparring match among jurors over allegations of racism, bias and physical threats.
In that trial, a judge removed the only black juror from the panel during deliberations after other jurors charged he harbored a bias against police. The case later ended in mistrial after a white juror who had voiced the first complaints about the ousted juror reported that he had received a threatening telephone call at his home accusing him of racism. Moore is black.
At the time of the mistrial, jurors reported they were voting 11-1 in favor of conviction.
Following the first trial, Gray said he doubted that Moore could receive a fair trial in the Torrance courthouse, where most jurors are white. The second panel consisted of 11 whites and one Latino juror.
On Monday, however, a jubilant Gray said Moore’s acquittal “proved that Torrance jurors are in fact fair to black defendants.”
“They stepped back and they looked at the overall picture and they decided, ‘We don’t have the complete puzzle here,’ ” Gray said. “There were too many questions and not enough answers, and they quite rightly concluded that the prosecution did not prove its case.”
Garcetti, who is the Torrance office’s head deputy and was acting as a trial lawyer for the first time in five years, acknowledged that he was disappointed by the verdict.
“Even Mr. Gray said his best hope was that he would have one person who would hang the jury,” Garcetti said. “We knew there was a chance of acquittal, of course, but we were surprised.”
Harold Winston, the black juror removed from the first jury panel, said he felt “as vindicated as Mack Moore” by the verdict.
“I tried to tell them back in September that things just didn’t add up,” he said.