King trial jury chosen - with white majority

Click to follow
The Independent Online
AFTER FIVE days of legal wrangling, a jury has finally been selected to determine the outcome of the federal trial of the four Los Angeles policemen in the Rodney King beating case. It is more racially mixed - but only slightly so - than the panel that acquitted the officers last April, igniting the United States' worst urban riots for decades.

The jury's racial composition is one of the most sensitive and hotly disputed aspects of the case, as the jurors who chose not to convict the officers of brutality charges in a California state court last year included no blacks and only two members of minority groups - a Filipina woman and a Hispanic.

Their verdict, which was despite an 81-second videotape showing Mr King being repeatedly kicked and baton-whipped, caused an international outcry, and led to allegations that they were inherently biased in favour of the white officers and against Mr King, a black ex-convict on parole.

This time, the jury of eight men and four women includes two blacks and a Hispanic. But it is also predominantly white, with nine Anglo-Americans, and is far from representative of the ethnic make-up of Los Angeles, which is 40 per cent Anglo, 38 per cent Hispanic, 10.5 per cent black and 10 per cent Asian.

The panel, sworn in at a federal court in Los Angeles, was selected after lengthy questioning in which the ugly racial tensions in the case surfaced when the officers' lawyers tried to remove one of the two black jurors. They did so by using a peremptory challenge, allowing them to dismiss a juror for no reason - unless the motive is racial. Suspecting colour bias, the prosecution successfully persuaded Judge John Davies that the man should be allowed to stay.

In the officers' first state trial, which was moved to the mostly white suburb of Simi Valley, the jurors also included eight people who had served in the military - prompting suspicions that this helped explain their pro-police sentiments. Although many of the second jury's personal details are being kept confidential, it has emerged that two of its members are former US marines and one is a former security officer with experience of using force against an intruder. They were drawn from across southern California.

In the last few weeks, the police and National Guard troops have been conducting highly publicised riot-training exercises in preparation for further unrest in Los Angeles if the officers are acquitted again (this time they face charges of civil-rights violations, which are harder to prove). But speculation is now turning to the possibility that there may be a hung jury.

To convict the officers, the jury must be unanimous. A divided panel would produce a mistrial, and the officers could - in theory - be tried for a third time, although this is thought unlikely.