Attorneys prosecuting four Los Angeles police officers accused in the Rodney G. King beating are scheduled to complete their case this morning without calling the man almost everyone assumed would be their star witness: King himself.
And it remained uncertain whether the four officers' attorneys, who soon must mount their defense against two weeks of prosecution testimony, will call King to the witness stand.
For attorneys on both sides, bringing the 26-year-old motorist before the jury is a gamble.
The prosecution's case could be helped if King were to come off as a sympathetic character who was felled under the batons of the officers on March 3, 1991.
But the defense could benefit if he were to come across as someone with questionable credibility. Defense attorneys would probably want to portray him as an ex-felon recently released from prison who led police on a dangerous chase at speeds of more than 115 m.p.h. before the beating.
A court agreement precludes attorneys from discussing their strategy. But King's lawyer, who has attended the trial daily, said that while the videotape speaks for itself, he believes that King's testimony would only help the prosecution.
"I don't think anyone can make Rodney King look bad," said Steven A. Lerman. "He is not on trial here.
"And the videotape is Rodney King's testimony. He can't say much beyond that anyway. He was too busy getting his head bashed in to know much more than that."
Asked if King was prepared to take the witness stand, Lerman said: "He wants to testify. He's dying to testify. He's ready to go, just like the Army on D-Day." Lerman said King has been watching much of the trial on television.
Earlier in the trial, before prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to stop talking to reporters, Deputy Dist. Atty. Terry White said that "Rodney King will testify at some time during this trial."
King was listed among the government's subpoenaed witnesses at the start of the trial. Lerman said Monday that the prosecutor's office agreed to give him two days' notice to arrange for King's arrival at the heavily guarded Ventura County courthouse here.
Prosecutors have not alerted him to prepare to make King available, Lerman said. Nor have defense attorneys subpoenaed King, although he noted that they could bring him to court under the prosecutors' subpoena when they begin testimony Wednesday.
Also Monday, Lt. Patrick Conmay--the highest-ranking LAPD administrator to testify during the trial--recalled how Sgt. Stacey C. Koon told him after the beating that he personally told other officers where to strike King with their batons.
"He stated he directed the officers in regard to their actions and where to deliver the blows," said Conmay, serving as the Foothill Division watch commander that night.
"Sgt. Koon told me this was a combative, aggressive, violent suspect and that these activities (the baton blows) occurred as this person was resisting and being aggressive," Conmay said.
His testimony appeared to significantly deepen Koon's involvement. In the past, his activities had appeared to be limited to shooting King twice with a Taser stun gun, and later ordering officers to stop hitting the motorist.
But Conmay testified that about an hour after the incident, Koon returned to the station and discussed with him what had happened.
"He said the person (King) jumped up and charged at some officers," Conmay testified. "He stated that when this individual charged at some officers, he used the Taser to tase him. He said the Taser had very little effect, if any.
"But he said the baton blows were not very effective," Conmay added, "and subsequently a swarm technique was used to take the person into custody."
Conmay said that Koon told him that King's injuries amounted to only "a split lip from striking the pavement." The lieutenant said he understood Koon to be suggesting that King was on his feet when he was struck with the batons.
Koon, along with Officers Laurence M. Powell, Theodore J. Briseno and Timothy E. Wind, have pleaded not guilty.