Tense LA awaits riot case verdict

HISTORY, in all its nastiness, appears to be replaying itself in Los Angeles. Only six months ago the city spent a week on tenterhooks as jurors squabbled over the fate of two police officers who beat Rodney King. Now, it is enduring another agonising wait.

Once again a jury is deliberating in a case with strong racial overtones and, some believe, the potential to bring violence to the streets: the beating by young black men of Reginald Denny, a white lorry driver, during last year's Los Angeles riots. Once again those on the jury are bickering furiously.

Judge John Ouderkirk gave jurors the day off yesterday after more than six days of tension that has led to personality clashes in which several jurors sent notes to the judge indicating that they were at loggerheads. One said 'a very serious problem' had surfaced with another juror.

The jury is weighing the fate of Damian Williams, 20, and Henry Watson, 29, who are accused of offences during the attack on Mr Denny and others. The driver, who was dragged from his truck and pounded with missiles, suffered severe injuries.

But there are fears that if they are found guilty of attempted murder, a charge that is certain to result in hefty jail sentences, there will be a furious protests among many blacks who will contrast the outcome of this trial with the result of the King trials. In the second King trial two policemen were jailed for 30 months for the horrific attack because they were convicted of a lesser offence of civil rights violations; in the first state trial, all four officers were acquitted, sparking the LA riots. Defence lawyers have asked the judge to tell jurors that they are not entitled to 'even the score'.

The Denny jury has had a difficult time. Two left before deliberations began after being taken ill. A third, was removed after allegedly discussing the case with neighbours; he told them (before the defence opened) that he thought the defendants were guilty. Unusually the jury now comprises 10 women and two men, including four blacks, four Latinos, three white people and one Asian.

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