Tempers Flared, Emotions Ran High for King Jury : Courts: Jurors describe weeklong deliberations, including explosive argument that provided a catharsis.
Trouble brewed before jurors got to court on the fifth and most cathartic day of deliberations in the Rodney G. King civil rights trial.
During breakfast at the Hilton Hotel where they were sequestered, jurors argued over taking time off. Some were mentally drained and for the previous two days had forced talks to conclude early. Juror No. 8 did not like the trend.
“If anybody wants a day off,” she said, “I’m going to write the judge.”
“Don’t write the judge,” the foreman said.
“I’ll write him if I want to.”
“Asshole!” the foreman shouted.
Later, in the jury room at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building, the foreman refused to apologize. With that, civility went out the door. Juror after juror vented grievances about colleagues in a scene that left about half of the panelists in tears.
After several hours of emotional bloodletting, Juror No. 3 couldn’t take any more and demanded to see his doctor.
Nothing was accomplished that Wednesday. “But ironically, it settled everybody down,” said Juror No. 6.
At 12:30 p.m. the next day, they convicted Laurence M. Powell, one of the four officers accused of violating King’s civil rights. By Friday their work was done--Sgt. Stacey C. Koon was guilty; Timothy E. Wind and Theodore J. Briseno were not.
The Times interviewed three jurors for this article, each of whom demanded that his identity be kept secret.
They told of their 52 days with a group of eight men and four women who started out as strangers. Some were professionals, some tradespeople, at least one unemployed, drawn from Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.
They lived together in a block of single rooms on the Hilton’s 10th floor, ate together, and in some cases, exercised, played cards and prayed together. But in most instances they did not even know one another’s last names.
To preserve their privacy and keep them safe and free from public pressure, and to make sure they did not discuss the case before it was time to deliberate, they lived under the guard of U.S. marshals.
To the dismay of some, the marshals had a rule requiring sobriety. Jurors were limited to two drinks a night.
Marshals listened to all telephone conversations and observed family visits. Even the remote control for the communal television was always in a marshal’s hand. Jurors were supposed to be in a news blackout about the trial, and whenever the marshals so much as heard the words civil rights, they thought it would be prudent to switch channels first, ask questions later.
The jurors’ names were literally a state secret. Jurors were referred to publicly only by their seat numbers in the jury box, although they were told they could tell one another first names or nicknames.
The jurors interviewed by The Times were No. 6, a 30-year-old engineer who took voluminous notes; No. 9, a 35-year-old jeweler who colleagues said has an excellent memory, and No. 11, a welder in his 60s who kept a diary.
Here is their story:
SATURDAY, APRIL 10
At midafternoon, U.S. District Judge John G. Davies sent them into a room next to his courtroom to decide the case. They had a refrigerator and coffeepot and another room full of exhibits admitted into evidence during the trial. These included the metal baton that Powell used to strike King after a March 3, 1991, traffic stop.
“We didn’t know how to start,” Juror No. 9 said. “We hadn’t been allowed to talk about the case at all.”
Everyone started talking at once, and it quickly became clear a plan of organization was needed.
Juror No. 5, a male engineer about 40 years old, was elected foreman in a secret ballot. He beat out No. 8, the female insurance company executive with whom he would later clash. The vote, which most recall as 8 to 4, was apparently along gender lines.
Jurors decided they would raise their hands to ask permission to speak and ended their first day with little or no substantive debate.
EASTER SUNDAY, APRIL 11
Five jurors went to church, so deliberations did not start until about 1 p.m.
Jurors sent a note to Judge Davies, asking him to provide them with a transcript of the testimony of CHP Officer Melanie Singer.
The request, which was denied by Davies, set off a round of public speculation that the jurors wanted Singer’s testimony to assess what a “reasonable officer” thought of Powell’s actions.
Davies had instructed them to put themselves in the place of a “reasonable officer.”
Singer had cried on the witness stand when she described Powell’s clubbing of King, so the jury’s request for a copy of her testimony was interpreted as being very bad news for the defense.
But jurors had something more mundane in mind. Singer had been involved in the car chase that led to the beating, and jurors had decided to start their review of the evidence at the beginning--with the chase.
They were still just getting organized, trying to determine whether King had in fact been evading police. They thought that would be important in establishing whether the officers had reason to be afraid of him.
Everyone agreed that King had tried to evade the officers, except Juror No. 11, and he would not budge. This led to hard feelings with Juror No. 6, who accused Juror No. 11 of having made up his mind prematurely that the officers were guilty. But the jurors decided to leave the evading issue for the moment and move on to the beating. They decided they would review the evidence against each defendant in turn, Powell first.
MONDAY and TUESDAY, APRIL 12 and 13
Jurors staged re-creations in an attempt to find the truth in a sea of conflicting facts put forth by defense and prosecution experts.
One panelist laid on the floor pretending to be King and another, wielding a baton, pretended to be Powell.
Jurors also played and replayed the best evidence in the case--the videotape of the beating that had been taken by an amateur and enhanced by the FBI.
“We went through it frame by frame, slow-motion, fast-motion, God I don’t know how many times we watched that thing,” Juror No. 9 said.
The tape, made by a bystander, could not answer all their questions. It was blurry at one crucial moment after King was struck and fell to the ground. Some jurors said they could see Powell using his baton to bash the fallen King in the head. But others had difficulty seeing head blows, even when the tape was viewed frame by frame.
All could see a powerful blow that Powell later landed across King’s chest. King was on the ground at the time, on his back.
“That chest blow was unreasonable and we felt it was not to effect an arrest but just to hurt the guy,” No. 9 said. “That convinced about a third of us.”
Powell’s laughter while making a radio call to request an ambulance for King also contributed to jurors’ impressions that he had acted callously. But the panel stopped short of taking a vote.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 14
The confrontations came.
After the foreman refused to apologize to Juror No. 8, he alluded to a previous quarrel between No. 9 and No. 3--two men who had fought and made up. He said he couldn’t make up with No. 8 because if he sat down to try he would wind up punching her in the face.
Juror No. 11 complained about Juror No. 1, who had insisted that deliberations end early Monday because she was mentally exhausted. If she was so tired, he demanded, why did she have the energy for aerobics?
Juror No. 7 said maybe some people were enjoying the fine dining at the Hilton and twice-weekly excursions to downtown-area restaurants such as Taix, the Velvet Turtle and Little Joe’s a little too much. Maybe they were trying to prolong the experience.
Juror No. 10, a young man, questioned the masculinity of No. 6, who had insisted that deliberations end early Tuesday because his brain could absorb no more.
Juror No. 9 threatened to beat up Juror 10 if he ever questioned his masculinity for wanting to leave early.
Juror No. 7 chimed in again to repeat something she had reportedly heard from No. 8: that No. 6 had referred to black people as “those people.”
Juror No. 6 said he was dumbfounded and had made no such remark.
As charges and countercharges flew, Juror No. 9 tried to introduce a little levity. He took off his shoe and began banging it on the table, saying “Nyet, nyet,” imitating former Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev’s actions at the United Nations in 1960.
Some jurors started to cry. One revealed an intimate family problem, then begged others to keep it a secret.
“Man, this is like rehab,” one juror remarked.
Juror No. 3 left, in the company of a marshal, to see his doctor and get some relief.
Some of the others continued crying, then began hugging and holding hands.
THURSDAY, APRIL 15
With their catharsis behind them, the jurors turned back to business. They methodically reviewed all the evidence against Powell and took their first vote.
“Everybody ready?” the foreman asked.
“Anybody for not guilty?”
No one raised a hand.
Then they turned to Wind, who had inflicted the second-highest number of blows.
Their question: What was Wind’s intent?
The panel took a straw vote. Eight jurors were leaning toward a finding that it was not criminal.
Wind was a probationer, they noted. His training officer was Powell. He was following Powell’s lead and his sergeant’s orders. But he was also pausing after each blow to assess the situation. Wind was also kicking King, however. Jurors could not agree whether the kicks were intended to punish King or push him down to stop the beating and make an arrest. They awarded Wind their reasonable doubt.
FRIDAY, APRIL 16
The topic was Briseno. Only one or two jurors said they were leaning toward guilty.
Early in the deliberations, while reviewing the videotape, jurors had discussed seeing Briseno trying to block Powell. And then, “all of a sudden, somebody said: ‘Look at Briseno now,’ ” No. 11 remembered. “He’s blocking Wind. “
No one--including Briseno’s attorney--had ever raised that point to the jury, and jurors were excited about having discovered an apparent truth by themselves.
But jurors still had to resolve why Briseno had put, or as the prosecution contended, stomped his Size 8D boot down on King.
Juror No. 9’s theory prevailed. “I believe he was trying to hold this guy down so they wouldn’t have reason to smack him,” No. 9 said.
Next came Koon. “He’s letting them hurt this guy for no reason at all,” Juror No. 9 said.
“We’re all high-fiving,” Juror 9 recalled.
Glad to be done.
Times staff writer Lily Dizon contributed to this article.
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