Chris Brown stepped out of an elevator Monday afternoon with the stride and attire of a runway model. He wore a monochromatic ensemble -- tight black cardigan over a black shirt and tie. His hands were deep in the pockets of black trousers and he stared straight ahead, ignoring the stares of those he passed.
Only the expression of his mother, who trailed after him grim-faced, and the presence of an attorney, who stepped confidently at his side, suggested he was strolling toward a judge's bench.
Nearly two months after police found his girlfriend, the pop star Rihanna, bloodied and bruised on a Hancock Park street, Brown appeared in Los County Superior Court and pleaded not guilty to charges of felony assault and criminal threats. The 19-year-old spoke in a voice so low that many of the three dozen journalists who had waited an hour for the hearing to begin were unsure if he had even answered Judge Patricia Schnegg's inquiry.
The judge told lawyers to return to court April 29 to set a date for a preliminary hearing but said Brown does not have to attend. The entire proceeding took less than two minutes, surprising some members of Brown's entourage who filed into the courtroom as the arraignment was ending.
Outside the courtroom, a lawyer for Rihanna said there were ongoing plea negotiations between Brown and prosecutors.
"I believe there are efforts by all of the parties to resolve the case expeditiously and fairly," said the lawyer, Donald Etra.
He said the 21-year-old was willing to testify against Brown, but hoped that a deal would be reached before trial so "she can get back to her life and her career.
"She would be pleased if this is over quickly," he said.
Etra said Rihanna, whose real name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty, is spending time with her family in her native Barbados. He declined to comment on tabloid reports, which have variously described the couple as having broken up, reunited and even secretly married.
A spokeswoman for the L.A. County district attorney's office confirmed that Rihanna has asked authorities to return jewelry that police took from her as evidence.
Brown left the courthouse without uttering a word to nearly a hundred paparazzi and camera operators massed outside the downtown courthouse. He has apologized for the Feb. 8 incident and said he was seeking counseling from his mother, pastor and others.