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Racially Mixed Jury Selected for King Trial

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A racially mixed, eight-man, four-woman jury was selected Monday in the Rodney G. King civil rights trial, concluding five days of painstaking questioning and an extraordinary tussle over the racial composition of the panel.

Dozens of prospective jurors were dismissed during the grueling selection process, some for bias, others after they expressed health or safety concerns. The panel that ultimately was selected for the volatile case includes two African-Americans and one Latino--in contrast to last year’s state trial of the same four defendants, when the jury included no blacks.

Jury selection, which began last Tuesday, stretched beyond the estimates of lawyers and U.S. District Judge John G. Davies, who initially predicted that it would be finished by last Friday. Three alternate jurors remain to be selected, but Davies ordered the 12 jurors to return Wednesday morning, when opening statements in the trial will be delivered.

Before both sides agreed on the panel of 12 citizens, lawyers in the case clashed openly on the issue of race, with prosecutors and defense lawyers accusing one another of removing prospective jurors for racist reasons.

The prosecution was the first to make that claim, after defense lawyers sought to remove a prospective juror who is black. The distinguished-looking older man, who has lived in Watts for 25 years, insisted that he could be fair. But he gave answers in court that defense lawyers said were inconsistent with his responses to the 53-page questionnaire completed by all of the prospective jurors nearly three weeks ago.

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Prosecutors disagreed and accused the defense of seeking to remove the man because he is black. Lawyers may not eliminate potential jurors because of their race.

“There isn’t a person in the courtroom who does not believe that this person was treated differently because he is black,” Assistant U.S. Atty. Steven D. Clymer said after the defense lawyers exercised their right to remove that man. “They are excluding jurors because of their race.”

Defense lawyers objected furiously to the accusation.

“We have done absolutely nothing that would give even a peppercorn, a twig, a shred of credibility to the government’s contention,” said Ira Salzman, the lawyer for Sgt. Stacey C. Koon.

Although Judge Davies agreed that some of the man’s statements were inconsistent, he ruled in favor of prosecutors and ordered that the man be allowed to remain on the jury.

Later, defense attorneys raised precisely the same objection when prosecutors attempted to remove a white prospective juror from the panel. Paul DePasquale, lawyer for Timothy E. Wind, said prosecutors were trying to “manipulate the racial composition” of the jury by removing white jurors in the hope that some would be replaced by blacks.

Davies rejected that argument, and allowed prosecutors to excuse a middle-aged white man who had served as a military police officer in the National Guard.

That man was replaced by a young Latino who professed to know almost nothing about the incident--he was the only prospective juror, for instance, who said he had never seen the videotape of the King beating. Neither side raised an objection to that man, and the 12 members of the panel were sworn in late Monday afternoon.

Although the names of jurors were not disclosed, details of their lives emerged during the five days of questioning. And from those accounts it appears that jurors bring a variety of experience to their task.

The jury will include blue-collar workers and professionals, city residents and suburbanites, mothers, fathers and single people.

Some said they came to the process out of patriotism or duty. Others looked forward to the opportunity to serve, and one man said he saw it as the “chance of a lifetime.”

The jury, as is often the case, is made up mostly of older people, but it also includes a few who appear to be in their 20s or 30s.

Of the 12 who were chosen, one is a former security guard who has used force on suspects, and three are veterans--two of the Marine Corps, another of the Danish military.

Male panelists were only rarely asked about their families, but at least three of the four women are mothers, including a single mother who is raising a 4-year-old son. That woman, who is black and works for the Postal Service, was among the first 12 prospective jurors seated in the case, and she survived five days of questioning by both sides.

In response to questions by prosecutors, she said she was surprised by the not guilty verdicts in state court, but she did not criticize jurors in that case. She also said that she does not view the King beating as a racial incident, a response that heartened defense lawyers.

“It sounds to me like they had a hard time making that decision,” she said of the state court jurors. “They did the best of their abilities, as any person would.”

Several of the jurors said they are sympathetic to the dangers of police work, but nearly all of them said they winced at the sight of King being beaten on George Holliday’s famous videotape.

“It looked as if excessive force was used,” said one juror, a white woman who is the manager of commercial marketing education for a large insurance company in Los Angeles. But that woman repeatedly pledged her impartiality.

Another said he was stunned by the state court verdicts and added that he wished the Simi Valley jury had included more minorities. “Just for appearance’ sake, I think it should have been more representative,” said that juror, a soft-spoken young man whose answers suggested that he works for the military.

Among the jurors who were selected are at least three who could pose problems for prosecutors. Those three men, all white, expressed sympathy for police officers and said they believed officers faced difficulties in performing their duties.

“I think they do a good job,” said one of the men, who works as a welder and who immigrated to the United States from Denmark in 1963. “I think sometimes it can be stressful.”

Another juror, a burly, barrel-chested man who was questioned late Friday, said he would tend to give more weight to testimony if it came from a police officer than if it came from a civilian.

Despite those answers, both of those jurors said they could be fair. The former security guard also expressed views that could make him a problematic juror for the prosecution.

“I don’t think the verdicts were unjust. There’s two sides to every story,” he said of the state trial. “The community felt the verdicts were unjust. I did not feel that.”

Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor, called that man a “questionable juror,” but she noted that prosecutors were down to just two challenges when the process concluded.

“They know what’s in the questionnaires of the people who were still in the pool,” she said of the prosecutors. “They could have had far worse.”

Even as lawyers were completing their task of picking a jury, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an order by Davies that prevented defense attorney Harland W. Braun from impugning the motives of the government or prosecutors in the case. His lawyer, Paul Hoffman, said he welcomed the 9th Circuit ruling.

“What matters here is that, under our system, Mr. Braun is entitled to speak his mind on this issue, regardless of who agrees with him,” said Hoffman, legal director of the Southern California American Civil Liberties Union.

KEY WITNESS DROPPED: A witness accused of lying won’t testify in second trial. B1

The 12 Jurors

JUROR 1: White woman, probably in her 40s. Works in her family business. Says she is not a good decision maker, but that once she makes up her mind, she is not afraid to stand by her opinion.

JUROR 2: Older white man, probably in his 60s. Former Marine Corps machinist. Had no reaction to the state verdicts last year.

JUROR 3: Black man, probably in his 60s. First reaction to the state verdicts was that they were “unfair,” but says he can be impartial. Defense lawyers tried Monday to excuse this juror, but judge said no.

JUROR 4: White woman, probably in her 30s or 40s. First shocked by the state verdicts, but now is not sure.

JUROR 5: White man, probably in his 40s. Works in the real estate industry. Was not surprised by the state court verdicts.

JUROR 6: White man, probably in his 30s. Appears to work in the military. Wishes the state jury had “been more of a jury of peers, even Rodney King’s peers.”

JUROR 7: Young black woman, in her 20s or 30s. Surprised by the state court verdicts, but said she believes jurors in that case did their best.

JUROR 8: White woman, probably in her 50s. Manager of commercial marketing education for insurance firm. When she first saw the videotape, said it looked to her as if the force was excessive. Said, however, that she is “not swayed one way or another” by the federal charges.

JUROR 9: White man, in his 30s or 40s. Generally likes police officers, some of whom are his customers.

JUROR 10: Young white man, probably in his 30s. Once worked as a security guard and had to use force twice to subdue suspects. Arrested once for driving under the influence, but says it was a “legitimate arrest.”

JUROR 11: White man, probably in his 50s or 60s. Native of Denmark, immigrated in 1963. Works as a welder at a chemical plant. Has served on six juries. Did not pay much attention to the state case. Believes police officers generally do a good job.

JUROR 12: Latino man, probably in his 30s. Last person to be seated on the jury and the only one who says he has never seen the videotape of the King beating. Says he has no opinions about the case.


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