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Three men to be tried in Denny beating

By ELKA WORNER

LOS ANGELES -- Following more than a week of testimony and lengthy viewings of the outbreak of the Los Angeles riots, a judge ordered three alleged gang members Tuesday to stand trial for the vicious beating of trucker Reginald Denny and seven other people during the early hours of the unrest.

Municipal Judge Larry Fidler dismissed five of the 39 counts filed against Damian 'Football' Williams, 19; Antoine Miller, 20, and Henry 'Kiki' Watson, 27, but ruled there is enough evidence to try the three black men on charges of attempted murder, aggravated mayhem, torture and second-degree robbery in the April 29 attacks.

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The judge scheduled an Aug. 25 arraignment for the three, who were being held in lieu of bail.

Fidler also found there was sufficient evidence to show that the three were members of a street gang, which would lengthen possible jail sentences and delay their chances for parole for 15 years.

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'There is sufficient evidence in the testimony and visual evidence to make these crimes come under the enhancement section,' Fidler said following an eight-day preliminary hearing that featured several videotapes of the Denny beating and others.

The three alleged members of the Eight Tray Gangster Crips are charged with pulling Denny out of his cement truck and beating him nearly to death at the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues -- now considered the flashpoint for the three days of rioting sparked by the partial acquittal of four white Los Angeles police officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King.

Nearly 60 people were killed in rioting and damages were estimated at about $2 billion.

Prosecutors said the trio were gang members who were orchestrating the violence at the intersection. Defense attorneys said the police were using the gang question to cover up their inadequate response to the early violence.

During the preliminary hearing, defense attorney Dennis Palmieri, who represents Williams, said his client did not intend to kill Denny when he hurled a brick at the trucker's head -- a blow doctors said caused 100 fractures and very nearly killed the white trucker.

Palmieri said Williams was 'not thinking' and was merely involved in the 'indiscrimate and random attacks' at the intersection of Florence and Normandie, considered the flashpoint of the riots that broke out after a jury failed to convict the four white police officers of beating black motorist Rodney King.

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'It was not the intent of Damian Williams to kill Reginald Denny,' Palmieri said, adding that Williams actually was trying to prevent further violence.

But prosecutors said Williams orchestrated and participated in the April 29 attack on Denny and seven other motorists. Part of their evidence was an audio taped conversation in which Williams admits to a detective that he smashed Denny's head with the brick, but felt immediate remorse. The defense argued Williams only made the alleged confession under coercion.

'The conduct of Damian Williams in smashing a brick to the right side of the head of Reginald Denny is a clear manifestation of expressed malice and a manifestation of his intent to kill Mr. Denny,' Deputy District Attorney Frank Sunstedt argued.

Attorneys for Watson and Miller argued there was no organized pattern of gang activity at the intersection and their clients were not gang members who aided and abetted in criminal activities.

'There's no evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, that Mr. Miller was involved in the attempted murder of Mr. Denny,' said Miller's attorney Patrick Maginnis.

Earl Broady, who represents Watson, said his client showed no expressed malice and premeditation or intent to kill Mr. Denny.

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'What we have here is a sudden explosion, a response to a bad verdict in the King case. There is no evidence of premeditation,' Broady said.

Fidler dismissed two counts of assault on a peace officer or firefighter against Watson, citing insufficient evidence.

Filder also dismissed two counts of assault with great bodily injury against Williams and one count of assault with great bodily injury against Miller.

Much of the hearing was taken up by videotapes of the violence that were taken by news organizations and private citizens.

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