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Actor Todd Bridges acquitted in shooting of drug dealer

By
MICHAEL D. HARRIS

LOS ANGELES -- Actor Todd Bridges, the former child star of television's 'Diff'rent Strokes,' was acquitted Thursday of charges he shot a drug dealer eight times inside a cocaine 'rock' house last year.

A Superior Court jury found Bridges not guilty of charges of assault with a deadly weapon and simple assault after deliberating 1 days following a one-week trial.

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Bridges, 24, wearing a brace on his upper body due to injuries he suffered in a traffic accident last year, hugged his attorney, Johnnie Cochran, then shed a tear and wiped his eyes. He also embraced his mother, Betty Bridges, who was also crying.

'I'm very happy it's over,' Bridges said. 'It's been a year and half. I have a lot of plans. Most of them involve lecturing kids on drug abuse. I can show a lot of kids to stay off drugs or you'll wind up in my situation.'

'I thank God that he put me through this experience to help me get off drugs,' the actor added. 'I'm an innocent man. But because I was involved in drugs, they put me in the wrong place at the wrong time.'

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Bridges said he wants to pursue his acting career again and plans to write a book about the case and his drug experiences and turn it into a television movie.

Bridges was charged with shooting Kenneth 'Tex' Clay, a convicted Texas drug dealer, eight times inside a South Central Los Angeles rock house, where the actor had taken large amounts of cocaine.

Deputy District Attorney William Hodgman said Bridges shot Clay Feb. 2, 1989, because he believed Clay was responsible for having his BMW impounded.

Bridges, who was free on bail throughout the trial, could have been sentenced to up to four years in state prison if convicted.

But jurors said the prosecution's case was not strong enough.

'I came with an open mind. But the prosecution didn't give us enough evidence to prove that Todd did it,' said juror William Woods, 36, who asked for Bridges' autograph following the acquittal.

Juror David Berumen, 32, said he initially leaned toward convicting Bridges, but after discussing the lack of evidence with the other 11 jurors, he changed his mind.

'They showed me doubt,' Berumen said. 'I was able to see that the prosecution hadn't proved their case.'

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The trial was Bridges' second stemming from the shooting.

At his first trial last November, jurors acquitted Bridges of more serious charges of attempted murder and attempted voluntary manslaughter.

However, that jury deadlocked 8-4 in favor of acquitting him of the assault count. A mistrial was declared and prosecutors decided to retry him on the charge.

At the first trial he testified that he did not remember shooting Clay because he was so heavily under the influence of cocaine following a four-day drug binge.

He also testified that after 'Diff'rent Strokes' went off the air in 1986, his life hit a downward spiral during which he couldn't find work, lost $1.5 million to embezzlers, became suicidal and eventually started 'freebasing,' or smoking, cocaine every day.

Bridges did not testify at the second trial.

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