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Actor Todd Bridges acquitted of attempted murder at drug house

By MICHAEL D. HARRIS

LOS ANGELES -- Former child television star Todd Bridges was acquitted Tuesday of attempted murder for allegedly shooting a drug dealer eight times inside a cocaine 'rock house' after a four-day narcotics binge.

A Superior Court jury, after deliberating three days, also acquitted Bridges, a former actor in such television sitcoms as 'Diff'rent Strokes,' and 'Fish,' of a lesser charge of attempted voluntary manslaughter.

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But the jurors told Superior Court Commissioner Florence Marie-Cooper that they were deadlocked 7-5 on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon. The commissioner ordered them to resume their deliberations in hopes of reaching a verdict on that count.

Bridges, 24, showed no visible emotion as the verdicts were read.

'My client, needless to say, was very elated,' defense attorney Johnnie Cochran said. 'He has a lot of faith in the American justice system and we're very optimistic that he will be acquitted of the assault ... count.'

Bridges had been charged with shooting convicted Texas drug dealer Kenneth 'Tex' Clay eight times on Feb. 2 inside a South Central Los Angeles rock house, where he had for weeks consumed large quantities of rock or crack cocaine.

Clay testified that after an argument with the actor, Bridges and an associate, Harvey Duckett, kicked down the door of the house and that Bridges then stood over him and repeatedly shot him with a handgun.

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Clay said he was a bodyguard for the man who owned the drug house.

Bridges testified that he does not remember shooting Clay after he and Duckett entered the house, where for weeks he had lived and repeatedly smoked, or 'freebased,' rock cocaine.

'I decided to kick the door in to see if we could scare Tex into leaving,' Bridges testified. 'We kicked the door in. Tex jumped out. I thought I saw a silver-plated gun in his hand. I thought he was gonna kill me.

'It happened so fast. There was a flash and bam, I was out,' Bridges said, adding that he lost consciousness. 'I don't remember anything else until I came to outside the house.'

Asked by Cochran if he remembers shooting Clay, Bridges replied: 'I don't think I did. I don't know who did. That's one of the side effects of drugs.'

Bridges testified that the shooting came following a round-the-clock, four-day cocaine binge in which he consumed about 14 grams of the drug each day.

Deputy District Attorney William Hodgman urged jurors to convict Bridges of pre-meditated attempted murder, which carries a potential life prison term.

But Cochran argued that Bridges was so heavily under the influence of cocaine at time of the incident, that even if he did shoot Clay, he could not have intended to kill him. Therefore, Cochran argued, Bridges should not be convicted of attempted murder.

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A motive for the shooting remains unclear.

Clay testified he and Bridges had argued several times. Hodgman said Bridges had also threatened to kill Clay because he believed Clay was responsible for having Bridges' BMW impounded.

Bridges testified that after 'Diff'rent Strokes' went off the air in 1986, his life quickly declined because he could not find work, he lost $1.5 million to embezzlers, was ordered to pay $800,000 in back taxes and became suicidal.

Bridges said he started snorting cocaine 'socially' in 1982. But by late 1988, Bridges said, when he was nearly destitute and had moved into the rock house, he was using the drug daily.

Duckett previously pleaded no contest to being an accomplice in the attack and testified against Bridges at the trial.

Bridges, who lives in suburban Sun Valley, has been in custody since his arrest following the shooting.

He began acting professionally at age 6, played Gary Coleman's older brother Willis on 'Diff'rent Strokes' from 1978 until 1986.

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