LOS ANGELES -- Long Beach State football star Ron Settles did not hang imself as police contend but died 'at the hands of another other than by accident,' a coroner's inquest jury ruled Wednesday.
The verdict came in the second day of deliberations following nine days of testimony. The district attorney will now make a decision whether to prosecute the case.
Suburban Signal Hill police said Settles, a 21-year-old football star at Long Beach State, hanged himself after being stopped for speeding. Others, including Settles' parents, can't imagine the young athlete would have killed himself.
'I will never believe he took his own life,' Mrs. Settles said. 'Ronnie had too much to live for.'
Settles, who would have been a senior at Long Beach State this year, was stopped by Signal Hill police June 2 for speeding. Police said Settles became violent and was later booked on charges of assaulting a police officer and possession of cocaine.
Police said there was a fight in the station between Settles and at least two officers and that the football star was repeatedly struck about the head and neck during the struggle. Two hours after he was booked, police said, Settles was found hanging in his cell by a noose fashioned from a mattress cover.
An attorney representing the couple said during Tuesday's final day of testimony that it was the young man's 'time to live.'
'There is a time to every season -- a time to live and a time to die,' said attorney Mike Mitchell, quoting a biblical passage. 'This was Ron Settles' time to live, and someone else caused him to die. He did not take his own life.'
But attorney George Franscell, representing six Signal Hill police officers at the coroner's inquest, countered that all the expert testimony from the coroner's report pointed toward death by suicide.
'The young man, unfortunately, decided to take his own life,' Franscell said. 'But we didn't hang him, we didn't cause his death. Look at the evidence. There were no fractures, no marks on his chest or stomach, just the single contusion on his neck that is consistent with hanging. There is noexpert testimony to the contrary.'
Attorney Johnnie Cochran, also representing the Settles family, told the jury, 'You are the conscience of the community. Ronnie Settles' voice is crying out to you for justice and I hope you hear those cries.'
He said that Settles was not the kind of person who used drugs or carried knives and called police claims that the football star pulled a knife and had cocaine, 'trumped up charges.'
Cochran said there were inconsistencies in the police version of Settles' death and in the coroner's report and also cited testimony of two Signal Hill jail inmates who said there were never any mattress covers in the cells.
'If there were no mattress covers, clearly, the police theory would not hold up,' Cochran said. 'This was an insensitive, non-caring, haphazard police department that didn't even try to administer first aid to Settles when they found him.'
'That's because once they killed him, they didn't want him to come back to life. They covered it up. But no lie can live forever and I trust you (the jury) will put this lie to rest.'
But Franscell said Settles hanged himself because he was depressed over being arrested for the first time.
'Settles thought, 'My God, now I'm going to lose my scholarship. I won't be able to play football. They know I've got cocaine. There goes my pro career and my mother has to use her money to bail me out. I'm going to break my parents' heart.' This is what caused Settles to take his life,' Franscell said.
All six police officers implicated in the death refused to testify at the inquest, citing their Fifth Amendment rights.