LOS ANGELES -- The judge presiding over the case of four police officers accused in the videotaped beating of Rodney King withdrew his offer to move the trial out of Los Angeles County, leaving the decision to a higher court.
Superior Court Judge Bernard Kamins' decision Wednesday was unexpected in light of a letter that he had written earlier this week to the 2nd District Court of Appeal offering to move the trial.
The appeal court, in a ruling last week, halted jury selection and the trial saying it wanted to review defense requests for the change of venue. The court also gave prosecutors until June 24 to respond to questions on whether political issues surrounding the case could interfere with the officers' right to a fair trial.
In his letter, Kamins said he offered to move the trial only as a means of expediting the case. Since the appealcourt took no action on his offer, Kamins said Wednesday he decided the trial would be bogged down in any court and should just as well stay in Los Angeles.
'My goal here was on behalf of the people to get an expeditious trial and on behalf of the defendants to get you the trial you deserve,' he said.
Kamins said even if he moved the trial, the appellate court's indefinite stay could keep the case in limbo for months while various appeals drag on. He anticipated the change of venue arguments could go as high as the U.S. Supreme Court.
'I'd like to take the offensive back and take control of this case,' Kamins said.
The judge said his view that a fair jury could be found in Los Angeles County has not changed, regardless of a defense motion before the appeal court alleging that the political firestorm stemming from the case could further influence local jurors.
Kamins, noting that Los Angeles County jurors may be residents of Santa Monica, Beverly Hills or other surrounding cities, said, 'I feel a fair trial can be had by this community and I have no doubt about it.'
Kamins' decision was seen as possible victory for the prosecution, which has repeatedly said it would fight any change of venue.
In seeking to move the trial, defense lawyers for the officers claimed a pervasive 'lynch mob atmosphere' in Los Angeles would make it impossible for their clients to receive a fair trial.
John Barnett, Briseno's attorney, said he remained 'cautiously optimistic' about the battle to move the trial.
'Judge Kamins is doing what he think is right, and I can't fault him for following his beliefs,' Barnett said.
Only two changes of venue have been granted in the city's modern history. The last time a trial was moved was in 1973, in a case involving the shotgun slaying of a 4-year-old girl.
But other highly publicized cases -- including the McMartin Pre- School, Charles Manson and Night Stalker serial killing trials -- failed to win changes of venue after defense lawyers complained of adverse publicity. The reason, legal experts say, is that Los Angeles County draws from a vast and diverse pool of 3.5 million potential jurors.
The officers in the King case -- Sgt. Stacey Koon and officers Laurence Powell, Theodore Briseno and Timothy Wind -- are charged with assault with a deadly weapon and of excessive use of force under color of authority.
Their lawyers have argued that, aside from the wide attention, the case has generated a dramatic political fallout, including a clash between the Police Commission and Chief Daryl Gates, a political tug-of- war between Mayor Tom Bradley and the City Council and numerous investigations.
King's March 3 beating in Lake View Terrace unleashed a nationwide furor and has prompted calls for the resignations of Bradley and Gates.
The key evidence in the case is a videotape of King's arrest, filmed by an amateur from his balcony. The graphic footage shows officers clubbing King more than 50 times and kicking him.