A judge ordered names of prospective jurors kept secret Thursday in the assault trial of four Los Angeles police officers, saying he feared outside efforts to influence jurors.
Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg, who already had limited media and public access to the prospective jurors’ written questionnaires, said he was astonished to see panelists’ names in a newspaper story relating their in-court answers to questions about the case.
He ordered jury names removed from questionnaires, and he began referring to prospective jurors by numbers in open court. Weisberg also asked reporters to refrain from using names already in their possession.
“There is a real concern that by having expressed views before commencement of the trial, this will be the cause of other people contacting jurors,” Weisberg said.
“I fully believe the news media has the right to be in court to see and hear,” the judge said. “But I have grave doubts that there is a compelling reason to attach a name to jurors.”
Weisberg already has restricted access to the jury questionnaires--allowing reporters to see one copy of each questionnaire in the courtroom for about five minutes. Reporters have been hand-copying the answers for use in their stories.
Officers Theodore J. Briseno, 39, Timothy E. Wind, 31, and Laurence M. Powell, 29, and Sgt. Stacey C. Koon, 41, are charged with the March 3 beating of motorist Rodney G. King.
A furor over police brutality resulted after a neighborhood resident’s videotape of the incident was broadcast nationally. The officers were shown clubbing and kicking King as he lay on the ground.
Echoing remarks made Wednesday by a parade of prospective jurors who condemned the officers’ actions as excessive, one woman said Thursday that she regarded the police beating of King as “excessive violence.”
The woman, who was excused from service, said she had suffered stress since being called as a potential juror.
“I feel like my privacy has been violated,” she said. “I feel like I’m in jail.”
Everyone quizzed so far has seen the videotape, and defense attorney Michael Stone said outside court that all 216 people now on the panel said on questionnaires that they had seen the tape, and many had opinions about it.
“I’d like to find people who haven’t seen the videotape and have no feelings,” Stone said. “But you’d have to go to the other side of the world for that.”
Defense lawyers are being assisted by a jury selection consultant, Jollean Dimitrius of Los Angeles, who worked on the trial of serial killer Richard Ramirez, the so-called Night Stalker.
Asked whether the defendants are discouraged by the tone of jury answers condemning their actions, Stone said he had warned his client, Powell.
“I’ve told my client that trials are like a roller coaster,” he said. “There are hills and valleys. . . . If yesterday was a valley and we came out feeling terrible, maybe today will be a hill and we’ll feel wonderful.”