Blaze Set at Home of Riot Case Witness


An attempt was made early Tuesday to burn the home of the chief prosecution witness in a criminal case stemming from riot violence in Venice, police and fire officials said.

Gasoline was poured on the front door of Marshall Bagby's stucco bungalow and set afire before 6 a.m., but did minimal damage, authorities said.

Bagby is scheduled to be a witness at the trial of five reputed gang members accused of beating a bicyclist into unconsciousness and terrorizing two neighbors--including Bagby--on the first night of the Los Angeles riots. The reputed gang members are black; the bicyclist and neighbors are white.

A gasoline-drenched plastic bucket was found near the home but no suspects were identified, investigators said.

"We don't know who it was," Los Angeles Police Sgt. Scott Landsman said. "There were no witnesses."

A community activist, who is the father of one of the defendants, accused Bagby of setting the fire and conspiring with police to make it look like retaliation.

"They're fabricating it," said Melvin Hayward Sr., who manages the housing project where his son and the other defendants live. "Nothing at the house burned . . . . If there's something burned, he did it himself."

Bagby said the incident will not deter him from testifying in Santa Monica at the Oct. 2 trial, which has been dubbed "Denny West" because of its similarities to the case stemming from the April 29 beating of truck driver Reginald O. Denny in South-Central Los Angeles.

Half an hour before the televised attack on Denny, a group of young black men allegedly assaulted white bicyclist Mark Rosenberg as he was passing the housing project on Brooks Avenue in the Oakwood section of Venice. Four of the men also are accused of being in a mob that stormed the home of Bagby, a Neighborhood Watch activist who frequently calls police to complain of drug dealing on the block.

Bagby said he detected the fire Tuesday morning when he awoke to make coffee.

"They lit the front door and some of (the fire) had crawled under the door," he said. "But it looks like it was a fumbled attempt."

The apartment complex is one of 15 in Oakwood for which a company associated with the Nation of Islam has won city approval to provide security patrols. Hayward was among the residents appearing at a Police Commission hearing on the permit application Tuesday.

Bagby said he had planned to attend as well, but decided to watch his home instead.

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