QUESTIONS STILL SHROUD LONG BEACH ASSAULT

Times Staff Writer

No one disputes that a black-on-white assault occurred on Halloween night in the affluent Bixby Knolls area of Long Beach.

Three young white women on their way to a haunted house were attacked by black youths, beaten to the ground, stomped, kicked and hit with a skateboard. One of them suffered 12 fractures to her nose and cheek.

Witnesses reported that one or more of the assailants shouted that they hated white people.

Nine black girls and one boy, ages 12 to 17, were arrested that night and later charged with assault with intent to inflict great bodily injury. Eight also face hate crime enhancements.

The prosecution has presented evidence that a cellphone belonging to one of the victims was found in a car carrying five of the defendants, and one defendant had blood on her pants.

But given the darkness of the night, the large crowd on the streets and the chaos of the attack, many details remain sketchy even now, as the prosecution winds up its case in a Long Beach courthouse.

Questions have been raised about whether boys not on trial were the main attackers; whether the main eyewitness saw the attack; whether at least one of the defendants was in her car during the melee; and whether the beating was truly racially motivated.

The trial, which followed closely on the heels of the arrests, began Nov. 28 before Judge Gibson W. Lee in Superior Court in downtown Long Beach. Under the peculiarities of juvenile law, prosecutors had only two choices after the arrests: release the minors to their families and continue investigating or keep them in Juvenile Hall and go to trial within 14 days of their arraignment. In juvenile proceedings, the judge, not a jury, decides guilt or innocence.

Among the defendants are top athletes, including a nationally recognized runner who was a member of the U.S. team at the World Junior Championships in Beijing this August. Another, Allyson Stone, attends a state college on a track scholarship. None has a criminal record.

Allene Seymore said her 16-year-old daughter is a "homebody" who reads voraciously and loves the cooking channel.

Clarence Smith said his 14-year-old daughter never gets in trouble. "This is the first time that she's gone out," he said. "Her life revolves around track and school and home."

They have been held in detention since the night of the attack, and they arrive in court in jail sweats shackled together.

The victims and their parents have talked little outside of court. They have bitterly denounced The Times' decision to publish the women's names and do not want any details of their lives disclosed.

The paper followed its normal practice in the matter, using names of adults that appeared in official records. The Times generally does not publish the names of minors on trial, but three of the accused -- Stone, Antoinette Ross and her twin brother Anthony Ross -- turned 18 this month.

The prosecution has based its case largely on the testimony of victim Loren Hyman, 21, and eyewitness Kiana Alford, who was trick-or-treating with her son, little sister and a friend.

According to Hyman, that night, she and two friends, Laura Schneider, 19, and Michelle Smith, 19, went to the corner of Bixby Road and Linden Avenue to check out the Halloween setups.

At a crowded haunted maze in the backyard of a rambling Spanish home on the corner of Bixby and Linden, an African American young man dressed in a black-hooded sweat shirt began taunting Hyman, she testified.

"He kept saying, 'Are you with it?' " she testified. "He kept grabbing his crotch."

She said they went through the haunted house and around to the frontyard when she heard a male voice shout, "I ... hate white people."

Two more voices yelled, "White bitches," Hyman testified.

The three women continued on Linden Avenue and were pelted with small pumpkins and lemons, Hyman testified. Schneider turned around and screamed, "Stop throwing things at us."

According to Hyman, a crowd of about 25 people then rushed them, pulled Schneider back by the hair and punched her in the side of the head. Hyman was kicked behind the knee. She turned to see who did it and was punched in the head, then pummeled to the ground.

She said she saw a black male in a hooded sweat shirt swing a skateboard at Schneider. Hyman tried to call police, but her cellphone was ripped from her hand.

Hyman said that mostly females hit her but that the blow that made her cheek "pop" felt like it came from a male. The mob dispersed when a man broke it up.

Witnesses reported seeing some of the assailants leave in a red Mustang and a red compact car, according to several police officers who took the stand.

No witness for the defense has yet testified, but police reports obtained by The Times contain summaries of statements the defendants, the witnesses and the victims gave to police.

All the defendants told police they were present or nearby during the attack. All but Stone, who said she was in the car all the time, also told police that a group of a dozen or so boys in black hooded sweat shirts beat the women, and that they got caught in the middle.

They told officers that the boys shouted the racial slurs and began throwing things at the women and beating them, according to the police reports. Six of them said they saw one of the boys kick one of the white women in the back of the leg. She turned around and punched one of the black girls in the face, thinking she was the one who had kicked her, the six minors said.

Then there was a "rush," the six minors told police, as the hooded males attacked. The minors said they ran to the cars where Stone, who told police her religion prevents her from trick-or-treating, was waiting.

The police statement by Smith, one of the victims, supported some of the defendants' accounts:

"Victim Hyman slapped in the face one female that was closest to her, probably thinking that she was the one that hit her," Officer Victor Feria wrote, summarizing Smith's comments.

"This brought everyone in the group to start hitting, punching, and kicking."

"Victim Hyman looked like she was holding her own with the females she was fighting. Some of the males jumped in and hit and kicked her causing the severe injuries."

Three 911 calls from residents on the street reported the attacks. "Out in front of my house, like 10 guys came up and just started beating ... two girls," said one caller. "They were all dressed in black and ran off."

Another call also reported 10 male assailants, but the third reported "four or five" people fighting. The caller said they looked male but that he couldn't really see.

Within minutes of the assault, police found the red cars in a nearby Ralphs parking lot.

Officers took the victims, whom paramedics had briefly treated at the scene, and the witness to the lot for a "field show-up" to see if they could identify the suspects.

One by one, the 10 youths now standing trial stepped in front of the vehicles' headlights.

Hyman identified four as assailants, Schneider three, Smith none and Alford eight. Each of the 10 was implicated by at least one of the four witnesses.

During trial, Deputy Dist. Atty. Andrea Bouas argued that the field identifications were more credible than having witnesses come into court more than a month after the event and try to remember who did what.

The defense attorneys have vigorously disagreed, saying the identifications could have been influenced by police telling the witnesses in advance that the minors were the suspects and by police officers' failure to include any non-suspects among those stepping into headlights.

Alford was the first witness. Her testimony was crucial: Without her, only five of the minors would have been identified.

She put forth a clean, step-by-step narrative of the attack.

But during cross-examination, she said it was dark and difficult to make out what any individuals were doing. The friend with whom she had been trick-or-treating told defense investigators they came upon the victims after the beating had ended, according to a memo given to Bouas by Deputy Public Defender Stephanie Sauter.

During her testimony, Alford's car was rammed by alleged gang members in what police said was an apparent attempt to intimidate her.

Bouas has indicated she will not call the other two victims to testify. According to a police statement, Schneider's identifications were uncertain.

The defense team still must contend with damaging physical evidence, including Hyman's cellphone being found in the car and blood on one of the defendant's pants.

The prosecution has said that the blood was DNA-matched to a victim, but on Monday the judge allowed only evidence that blood was on the defendant's pants, saying it was too late to enter the DNA evidence.

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joe.mozingo@latimes.com

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