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Parents say their children innocent in Long Beach assault case

Times Staff Writer

Some of the parents of the black youths accused in the Long Beach hate-crime trial made a tearful defense of their children at a community forum Saturday, and said prosecutors had failed to prove their case.

“We chose to keep quiet, to do things with dignity. But enough is enough,” said Allene Seymore, the mother of a 16-year-old girl who is one of 10 black youths accused of beating three white women on Halloween in the Bixby Knolls neighborhood.

“My kids are innocent,” said Cherralle Hargison, the mother of four of the youths on trial. “They’re devastated. They can’t even go to school, because they’re in court every day.”

The forum, which attracted about 100 people to the California Recreation Community Center in Long Beach, came the weekend before the defense is set to finish its closing arguments. Nine females and one male ages 12 to 17 were charged in November with assault with intent to cause great bodily harm; eight face a hate-crime enhancement over racial slurs allegedly yelled during the attack.

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The five parents, some of whom gave only their first names when they addressed the forum, attacked what they called a rush to judgment.

“They’ve been presumed guilty,” said Seymore, who added that her daughter has never been in a fight and loves reading and watching cooking shows on TV. “This just made me realize how so very, very far we are from fulfilling Dr. [Martin Luther] King’s dream” of equality for all, she said.

Some of the parents said their children were good students or athletes with promising futures and had no criminal records. The youths have been detained since they were arrested Halloween night, the parents said.

Chrissy Malone, whose two daughters are on trial, said the white women were assaulted by unidentified black men, not the defendants.

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Malone, whose name was provided to a reporter by her lawyer, referred to 911 tapes of neighbors calling black men the assailants. “My kids have never been in trouble,” she said.

Doug Otto, an attorney for the three white women, said in a telephone interview Saturday that the victims have made it clear that they were beaten by both males and females, and that “the females that attacked them included the defendants in this trial.”

Otto also said the victims did nothing to provoke the attack.

The prosecution has charged that the assault on Loren Hyman, 21; Laura Schneider, 19; and Michelle Smith, 19, was carried out by a group of 30 or more black youths motivated by racial anger and shouting racial epithets.

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Hyman suffered a broken nose and facial fractures, while Schneider may have received a concussion, according to a doctor’s testimony.

Seymore expressed sympathy for the victims but said those on trial were not involved in the beating. “Our heart goes out to the victims,” she said. “This should never have happened.”

Long Beach resident Woodrow “Woody” Nichols, 59, said he organized the forum because “there was a cry from the parents that they were being ignored.”

The forum, “Join Us for Answers,” attracted a largely African American audience. Afterward, some offered money to the parents.

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The Rev. O. Leon Wood Jr., a pastor at the North Long Beach Community Prayer Center who presided over the forum, said it was held to ensure that, regardless of the verdicts, “there is a united group of people ready to help [the defendants] regain, restore and repair their lives.” Wood led a prayer for both the victims and the 10 defendants.

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ron.lin@latimes.com

Times staff writer Joe Mozingo contributed to this report.

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