Williams Given Maximum 10 Years in Denny Beating : Riots: Judge calls attacks on the basis of race intolerable and says ‘statement of remorse does not ring true.’ The assailant could be freed in four years.
Damian Monroe Williams, convicted of throwing a brick that struck trucker Reginald O. Denny in the head during the opening hours of the Los Angeles riots last year, was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in jail--the maximum term for that attack and for assaults on four other people at Florence and Normandie avenues.
With credit for time served, and under state guidelines that effectively cut most sentences in half, Williams could be released in less than four years.
Superior Court Judge John W. Ouderkirk, who called Williams’ crimes exceptionally violent, said that although Williams had apologized to his victims, “his statement of remorse does not ring true.” The judge noted that Williams had performed a victory dance and had spit on Denny after throwing the brick.
Ouderkirk, who played videotapes of Williams’ attacks on each of the victims before imposing the sentence, told the 20-year-old defendant: “Mr. Williams, it is intolerable in this society to attack or maim people because of their race.”
Williams, who is African American, was convicted of mayhem in October for his role in the attack on Denny, who is white, and of misdemeanor assaults on three Latinos and an Asian American.
As he left the crowded courtroom, Williams turned to his supporters, smiled and briefly raised his arms in the air.
The Los Angeles Police Department went on modified tactical alert Tuesday morning, keeping some overnight officers on duty, but no incidents related to the sentencing were reported.
Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti said he was pleased with the sentence, but he was sharply critical on the subject of how much time Williams will actually serve.
“Mr. Williams . . . will serve only about four years and will come out the same way you saw him” as he left the courtroom, Garcetti said, “with a big smile on his face and waving to his friends and family. In our opinion, Mr. Williams deserves 10 years of actual time.”
California law, which halves the sentences of most offenders in all but the worst cases of prison misconduct, “is going to change,” Garcetti said. “It has to change.”
One of Williams’ lawyers, Edi M.O. Faal, said, “We are not bitter. We are not disappointed.” He noted that when the trial started, Williams was accused of crimes that carried potential life sentences and 47 years in prison.
The forewoman of the jury that convicted Williams, Carolyn Walters, called the sentence “a little harsh.” Walters--who said she and two other jurors came to court Tuesday because “we were here for the beginning and we wanted to be here for the final chapter”--said she had hoped for a sentence that would have added two years to the time Williams has already served.
Many of Williams’ supporters have insisted that his sentence should, at worst, be comparable to the 30-month sentence being served in federal prison by two former Los Angeles Police Department officers convicted of violating Rodney G. King’s civil rights in a 1991 beating.
Walters said the jury “thought the district attorney’s office was overly aggressive” in pursuing Williams and co-defendant Henry Keith Watson.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Janet Moore, the lead prosecutor, responded to Walters’ criticism by suggesting that Walters had “a hidden agenda from the very beginning” of the trial.
The attack on Denny, who was dragged from his truck and beaten nearly to death, was televised around the world and became a defining image of the violence and destruction that hit Los Angeles last year after a jury in Simi Valley failed to convict four Los Angeles police officers accused of beating King, an African American motorist.
Before imposing sentence Tuesday, Ouderkirk replayed videotaped footage of the attacks on Denny, Alicia Maldonado, Takao Hirata, Jorge Gonzalez and Fidel Lopez.
Williams did not look at the courtroom monitor as the tape played, focusing his attention instead on the notes he was writing on a legal pad. The judge said he showed the tape again to emphasize the facts underlying each attack.
In explaining the factors he considered in arriving at his sentence, Ouderkirk said that victims at Florence and Normandie were particularly vulnerable.
“Each was isolated from help by an angry mob,” he said. “At the time, none had anywhere to turn for help, and that was more than apparent to the defendant.”
Lopez had been beaten “unconscious or nearly so when the defendant set upon him,” Ouderkirk said. Lopez was partially undressed and lying in his own blood when Williams spray-painted his body, including his genitals.
“Mr. Lopez’s only apparent help at the time was from an elderly minister holding a Bible,” Ouderkirk said.
Maldonado was a lone woman singled out in the midst of an angry mob, as was Hirata, the judge said. Gonzalez, a law student, was beaten as he tried to rescue Hirata.
Denny was barely able to move, Ouderkirk said, when Williams “struck him full force at close range with a brick to the temple.”
Noting that the attacks occurred over an extended period, Ouderkirk said: “If at any moment the defendant had a spark of human feeling for others, he was free to walk away.”
He said he found each of the four misdemeanors to be an “exceptionally violent act perpetrated upon exceptionally vulnerable people by the defendant who had no regard whatsoever for his fellow human being.”
Ouderkirk sentenced Williams to the maximum term on all charges--eight years for the mayhem conviction, and a total of two years in jail on the misdemeanors. The 19 months Williams has spent in jail have satisfied the two-year misdemeanor sentence, and he has accumulated nearly five months credit toward the eight-year prison term.
Williams could be released in a little more than three years and seven months after he has served 50% of his sentence.
On Tuesday, Ouderkirk also formally sentenced Williams’ co-defendant Henry Keith Watson, 29, in accordance with a plea bargain that was reached earlier.
Watson pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon on Larry Tarvin, another trucker who was beaten at Florence and Normandie. The jury deadlocked on that charge, and Watson agreed to plead guilty in exchange for three years probation and no jail time.
Loyola University law professor Laurie L. Levenson said that in imposing the maximum sentence on Williams, Ouderkirk “wanted to send a message. There are people who want to hear it, some who don’t.”
Don Jackson, a spokesman for the Williams family, criticized Ouderkirk for showing videotapes of the attacks. He said “the problem with the videotape is that they didn’t show it all,” referring to frustration that had spiraled in Los Angeles’ black community over a series of perceived injustices.
“They didn’t show Soon Ja Du shooting Latasha Harlins in the back of the head,” Jackson said, referring to an infamous criminal case that was settled with a probationary sentence before the riots. “They didn’t show the police officers beating Rodney King.”
Latasha Harlins was shot to death in 1991 by Du, a liquor store owner who was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. But Superior Court Judge Joyce Karlin sentenced Du to probation for the crime. The Harlins shooting galvanized African American activists, who said the case showed that the judicial system was biased against blacks. Some rioters at Florence and Normandie shouted the dead girl’s name.
Williams’ 10-year sentence “proves this is a two-tier (criminal justice) system,” said Denise Harlins, Latasha’s aunt. “This really kind of stones the heart.”
However, John Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, said he feels the sentence “was on target. I think the punishment fits the crime. It’s important to be consistent when we call for fairness in the criminal justice system. Just as it is unfair for the police to beat Rodney King, that doesn’t justify the beating of Reginald Denny.”
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), whose staff has maintained a close relationship with the Williams family, said: “We’ve gone through a traumatic time in this city. Communities have been pitted against each other. Labels have been placed on individuals by both sides. Enough is enough. Let us get on with living. Let us get on with correcting the inequities in our society so that every human being can realize his or her full potential.”
Gov. Pete Wilson said the sentence “sends a clear message that individuals must accept responsibility for their actions. I strongly support the judge’s decision to impose the strict penalties available in this case.”
Wilson also said it is time “to put behind us this unfortunate and painful chapter in our state’s history. We must continue to work together to resolve the challenges facing Los Angeles and build the future we envision for our children.”
After the court session, Williams’ mother, Georgiana Williams, arrived wearily at her home on 71st Street near Florence and Normandie. This time the glare of the media had not followed her home, as it had when her son was acquitted on the most serious charges he faced. Reporters were not clamoring for quotes outside her door, nor were they at the intersection seeking reactions.
The neighborhood is already drifting back into obscurity. A small caravan of cars, loaded with supporters, rode back to the Williams house from the courthouse. Williams emerged from her car, petted her dog, Precious, and walked into the house, which was full of friends. She eased into a chair, and slipped off her red shoes.
She said she hoped her son would use his time wisely in prison and get a high school diploma.
“I’m glad it’s over,” she said with a sigh. “Now I can go back to work full time and make some money. I’m tired of being poor.”
Times staff writers John L. Mitchell and Rich Simon contributed to this report.
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