Time Takes Some of the Sting Out of Miami Officer's Retrial

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On the sun-bleached streets of Overtown, a predominantly black, overwhelmingly poor section just west of downtown, there is little outward sign that one of the most inflammatory criminal trials in this city's history is nearing its culmination.

In Green's Barber Shop, for example, the television is tuned to regular daytime programming rather than to gavel-to-gavel cable trial coverage. "People are interested," says manager Everett Fort, "but we're following it through updates."

The retrial of a Miami policeman charged with manslaughter in the deaths of two black men six blocks from Green's shop is being viewed with apparent calm. Several things may explain that. One is time.

More than four years have passed since patrolman William Lozano, with a single shot from his service revolver, hit a motorcyclist in the head and touched off three days of rioting.

Distance may be another reason for the calm. The trial is being held 230 miles away, in Orlando. The case was sent out of Miami after an appeals court overturned Lozano's 1989 conviction on the grounds that jurors had feared that an acquittal would set off more rioting.

Still, especially in Miami's black community, there is no mistaking the importance of a prosecution that once again may test the city's equilibrium. "It is the topic of conversation," said Willie Joe Davis, working with a crisis intervention team supervised by a group of African-American clergy.

"The community is concerned about the verdict. But I think people are more concerned that our town is not burned down. I like to think we have matured."

The case may go to the jury in little more than a week. After the prosecution rested, the defense was to begin presenting evidence today.

The potential explosiveness of Lozano II was underscored by months of wrangling over where to hold it. After the trial was shuttled back and forth between Tallahassee and Orlando, Dade County Circuit Judge W. Thomas Spencer finally settled on Orlando, in Central Florida, despite objections from the prosecution that blacks would be scarce in the jury pool.

In fact, jury selection, which began May 10, went quickly. The six-member panel, which includes two Latinos, one black woman and three non-Latino whites, seemed to satisfy the judge, prosecutors and Lozano's defense attorney, Roy E. Black.

Since the case has been tried once, the basic facts are well-known. Lozano, then 29, and his female partner were stopped on an Overtown street when they heard the whine of an approaching motorcycle as it was being pursued by a police car.

Lozano, a Colombia native and a police officer for four years, moved from the trunk of his squad car, where he was seeking a report form, stepped into the street and drew his gun. As the motorcycle drew near, he fired.

"I thought he was going to run me down," Lozano said during his first trial, at which he was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to seven years in prison. "I thought I was a dead person."

Clement Lloyd, 23, driving the motorcycle, took a bullet to the head and was killed instantly. His passenger, Allan Blanchard, 24, died of injuries the next day.

In his opening statement, Black tried to put the jurors in his client's shoes. "You've got to feel what it was like on that street," he said.

"You have to feel the danger. You have to feel the fear, the tension, the electric shock, the heartbeat--everything you go through when your life is on the line."

Black also has put Miami on trial, referring to the city as a dangerous, crack-infested murder capital. "And Overtown is the most dangerous segment," he said. "And in Overtown, a policeman is always wrong."

Assistant State Atty. Jerald Bagley, however, described Lozano as a man who was never in danger but who stepped out into the street and deliberately fired. "This was not a justifiable shooting," Bagley said. "This was a case of a police officer who violated the very laws that he took an oath . . . to protect and uphold."

Fired from the police force after his conviction, Lozano has been working as a security guard.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
66°