Victim without malice emerges as hero

WASHINGTON - Amid the official incompetence, tribal feuding and violence which has characterised the recent history of Los Angeles, one man stands apart. Reginald Denny is fast emerging as a hero, writes Phil Reeves. He is the man whose beating at the start of the Los Angeles riots was televised worldwide, transforming him overnight from an unknown lorry driver into an unwilling celebrity.

In the few minutes in which he was bombarded with missiles and hit in South Central Los Angeles, he says he suffered 97 breaks in the bones of his face. His upper jaw was thrust up behind his nose. An eye socket was so badly injured that he now has a piece of plastic holding the eyeball in place.

Such injuries would normally give rise to anger and vindictiveness. But, in his case, the reverse is true. This week, Mr Denny, who is white, gave evidence in the trial of two black men - Damian Williams, 20, and Henry Watson, 28 - who are, among other charges, accused of attempting to murder him. His testimony - wholly lacking in bitterness - can only have helped defuse a case that continues to smoulder beneath the city's surface.

As he left the witness-stand, the 37-year-old former trucker embraced the mothers of the two defendants. 'I told him I loved him,' Georgiana Williams said afterwards, 'I respect this man. I admire him. This man has no malice in his heart.'

This month the two police officers convicted in the Rodney King case were sentenced to 30 months in prison - terms widely seen as light. Many blacks are watching the Denny case to see if the accused are accorded the same leniency.