Jury ordered to go on after acquittals in LA riots trial: Two found not guilty of serious assaults against lorry driver

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The Independent Online
TWO black men accused of severely beating a white lorry driver at the start of the Los Angeles riots were yesterday acquitted of some of the more serious charges connected with the widely publicised assault.

One of the men, Henry Watson, was found not guilty of attempting to murder Reginald Denny, the trucker whom television viewers worldwide saw writhing on the ground as he was pelted with missiles, including a brick to the head.

But the jury was last night deadlocked over whether the second defendant, Damien 'Football' Williams, was guilty of the same charge - which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. After they announced they were divided on that, and several other counts against both men, the judge ordered them back to the jury room for further deliberations.

The case has been the focus of intense interest and emotions in the US, not least because many have compared the near-fatal attack on Mr Denny - who suffered a shattered skull - with the videotaped beating of Rodney King by four white Los Angeles police officers in March 1991.

The acquittal of all the officers - despite powerful videotaped evidence - by a white jury in a Californian court prompted the Los Angeles riots in April 1992, in which more than 50 people were killed. Even after a federal jury convicted two of the officers of civil rights offences earlier this year, a judge sentenced them to only 30 months.

The multi-racial jury in the Denny case did reach some decisions, despite being at loggerheads. Watson, 29, was found guilty of a misdemeanour charge of assault, which carries a six-month prison sentence, but was acquitted on other counts relating to attacks on seven people during the riots. Meanwhile Williams, 20, was found guilty of mayhem - a serious charge for which he could be jailed for up to seven years - as well as four lesser assault offences.

Although the jury was yesterday still undecided over whether Williams committed attempted murder, their initial verdicts prompted an early outcry from some Americans, especially whites. A local TV station in Sacramento, California, was bombarded with outraged calls.

Mr Denny, whose face had to be rebuilt by doctors after the beating, took a different view. Speaking on US TV, he appealed for leniency, saying the authorities should release Henry Watson because he had already served enough time in prison.