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Victims speak in hate-crime case

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Times Staff Writer

Three white women beaten by a black mob in Long Beach told a court they were physically and emotionally devastated and asked the judge to give “the harshest punishment possible” to nine minors convicted last week for the Halloween attack.

The trio -- Loren Hyman, 21, and Laura Schneider and Michelle Smith, both 19 -- sobbed through much of their statements, saying they did nothing to provoke the beating and have been scared to leave their homes ever since.

“I hope they’re still in jail when our injuries are finally healed,” Schneider said.

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Hyman, who sustained multiple fractures in her nose and around her eye, is scheduled to have 4 1/2 -hour facial reconstruction surgery Friday. “Perhaps the only thing worse than suffering 13 facial fractures was seeing my friend Laura lying on the ground lifeless,” she said.

Judge Gibson Lee listened intently to the accounts, which he will consider when he begins sentencing hearings Friday.

Defense attorneys said Wednesday they had been told that prosecutors would not seek time in the California Youth Authority for the juveniles, which would have been the maximum penalty possible. None of the minors have criminal records, though one has been accused of battery in an unrelated case.

The Los Angeles County Probation Department has recommended that they spend six to nine months in youth camp, the lawyers said.

According to testimony in the seven-week trial, as many as 30 black youths took part in the assault on a street in the well-to-do Bixby Knolls area, which has long attracted crowds with its elaborate Halloween displays.

Witnesses said someone in the mob yelled a racial slur and one black youth smashed a woman in the face with a skateboard. Two other black youths are scheduled to go on trial later in connection with the beatings.

The juveniles on trial claimed that a group of black males wearing black hooded sweatshirts attacked the women. In a tape of a 911 call, a neighbor described the culprits as males in black sweatshirts.

But several defense attorneys have expressed frustration that none of the minors on trial admitted any involvement in the melee.

Defendants who had been in the scrum could have pointed out who was not involved, the lawyers said. Instead, by closing ranks, they perpetuated the sense that the 10 were on trial as a group, not individuals.

“It seems at some point it would be helpful if someone would come forward and say what really happened that night,” said attorney Jack A. Fuller, who represents a 14-year-old girl. “The evidence shows that some were probably involved. But the evidence was clear that not all were involved.”

The minor often cited as not having participated was Allyson Stone, now 18, who was accused of punching and stomping on two women as they fell on a lawn.

Her friends told police she was in her car the whole time because her religion prohibited her from trick-or-treating. And Stone’s attorney showed the court her crisp, white tennis shoes from that night -- with not a scuff, grass stain or trace of blood on them.

“My client’s heart goes out to the victims,” said Stone’s lawyer, Darrell Goss. “She is disgusted that anyone would ever do that to any human being. But she was not involved. She was in her car.”

Another defense attorney, Frank Williams Jr., called the victim statements “heart-wrenching.”

“Any human being would feel compassion for them,” he said.

Hyman, who was the only victim to testify during the trial, told the court Wednesday that it was particularly shocking to be the target of a racial attack.

She said she is Latina and Jewish and joined a diversity council in high school after skinheads published an anti-Semitic item in the student newspaper. Her high school sweetheart, she said, was Nigerian.

“I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard them yell ‘I hate ... white people!’ ” she said.

Hyman said she is a photography student who has shown her work at the Los Angeles County Art Museum and won some awards. But she has not attended classes since Halloween, she told the court, and fears that she may not be able to pursue her dream of becoming a working photographer because of the beating, which left an eye recessed four millimeters and upset her equilibrium.

Emotionally, she said, she is a mess. Depressed and anxious, she said she doesn’t sleep well and is afraid to leave her home -- and is scared even there. “We are in constant fear from the families and any gang member friends they might have,” she said.

Some of the minors’ relatives groaned at the comment. The defendants, who are mostly good students and involved in sports, have denied any gang affiliation.

Schneider said she has recurring nightmares and now sleeps with her mother. And she said she was dismayed by people who tried to characterize the violence as a fight.

“This was no fight. We tried to run away,” Schneider said. “We didn’t want trouble. In return, they beat us within inches of our lives. I can’t tell you what it did to me to see people get such pleasure in hurting us.”

Smith and Schneider said they were suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome.

The victims said they were sure that all the minors on trial were involved in the attack.

The defendants’ families have said they will appeal the convictions. If the judge sentences the youths to camp, Leo Branton, a semiretired litigator who secured an acquittal for militant black activist Angela Davis in 1972, said he plans to ask an appeals court to order the judge to release the defendants to their families pending the appeal.

Branton said that there was insufficient evidence linking the youths to the crime, and that a jury would have acquitted all of them. All juvenile trials are presided over by a judge. “This was an outrageous distortion of justice,” he said.

joe.mozingo@latimes.com


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