Verdicts in Denny riot trial

By TERRI VERMUELEN  |  Oct. 18, 1993
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LOS ANGELES -- Two black men charged in the beatings of white trucker Reginald Denny and seven others at the beginning of the Los Angeles riots were acquitted Monday of some of the most serious crimes in the assaults.

The jury acquitted Henry Keith Watson, 29, of attempted murder, but found him guilty of misdemeanor assault in the near fatal beating of Denny. Instead of life in prison, Watson now faces only a six-month prison sentence on that charge. He has been in jail for more than a year-and-a-half.

The jury deadlocked 11-1 on the attempted murder charge against Damian Williams, 20, in the Denny attack. They did not say which direction the vote was leaning. Superior Court Judge John Ouderkirk ordered jurors to resume deliberations Tuesday on that charge and a robbery charge against Watson.

More than half the jurors told Ouderkirk they thought the panel could reach a verdict on the deadlocked counts if they continued to deliberate.

Williams was convicted of simple mayhem in the Denny beating, meaning he could face between two and eight years in state prison. He had been charged with the more serious crime of aggravated mayhem, which carries a maximum sentence of life.

In the attacks on the other sevenpeople, Williams was found guilty of four counts of misdemeanor assault and one count of robbery, which each carries a six-month jail sentence. Williams was acquitted of assault with a deadly weapon on two Los Angeles firefighters whose car was hit by an ax as it responded to a riot call.

Williams smiled broadly and hugged his attorney, Edi Faal, after the acquittal on the aggravated mayhem charge. Family members and friends cried quietly and embraced each other.

'There's no question that we won this case,' said Faal. 'The people came here (with the ) intention of getting convictions...with life in prison.'

Faal said because of errors in the trial, including removal of a juror for alleged incompetence, 'even the misdemeanor convictions will be thrown out on appeal...'

'Damian Williams is extremely happy (and) he has every reason to be happy,' said Faal, who took a chance by not allowing the jury to find Williams guilty of a lesser offense on the attempted murder count.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys refused to comment on the verdicts, saying they wouldn't discuss the case while jurors were still deliberating.NEWLN: moreNEWLN:ccccqqe

Police were on a modified tactical alert for the verdicts, but there were no reports of any incidents. The Justice Department said it has not decided yet whether to pursue civil rights charges against Williams and Watson.

The jury, which has been sequestered at a hotel, had been deliberating since Oct. 1, but is not the same panel that started the case. Five jurors were removed for illness, personal reasons or incompetence.

Williams and Watson were accused in the racially charged trial of beating Denny nearly to death at the South Los Angeles corner of Florence and Normandie avenues during the early hours of the Los Angeles riots. The April 29, 1992, attack on Denny and the other victims was captured on several video cameras.

The riots broke out after four white police officers were acquitted on most charges in the March 1991 beating of Rodney King, a black motorist.

During the trial, prosecutors said Williams and Watson were clearly seen on videotape beating the white trucker, but defense attorneys claimed it was a case of misidentification and that the defendants were being made scapegoats for the riots.

The trial began Aug. 19, almost 1-1/2 years after Williams and Watson were arrested in pre-dawn raids by local and federal officials. Police Chief Daryl Gates, who has since retired, personally appeared at the arrest Williams.

Many black activists, including Free The LA-4+, claimed Williams and Watson were charged with harsher crimes than the police officers accused of beating King because the Denny defendants were black.

Denny, the most publicized victim of the riots, testified Aug. 25 that he could not remember an angry mob pulling him from his gravel truck, kicking and beating him or being struck in the head with a hammer and a brick.

Denny was hospitalized for 33 days with a compound skull fracture, almost 100 broken bones and other injuries. Doctors said he was only moments from death before being rescued by four black good Samaritans.

Denny said he held no anger toward his attackers and hugged the defendants' parents following his testimony.

On Monday he told 'Inside Edition,' 'I was relieved. They should let (Watson) go. He spent a year-and-a-half in jail and has had time to think what happened. I am in total agreement (with the verdicts).'

The two defendants did not testify in their own defense.NEWLN: ccccqqe

Two black men charged in the beatings of white trucker Reginald Denny and seven other people at the beginning of the Los Angeles riots were acquitted Monday of some of the most serious crimes in the assaults.

A Superior Court jury found Henry Keith Watson, 29, innocent of attempted murder in the near fatal beating of Denny, but guilty of misdemeanor assault. The former carried a maximum sentence of life in prison, but Watson now faces only a six-month prison sentence on that charge and has been in jail for more than a year-and-a-half.

The jury deadlocked on the attempted murder charge against Damian Williams, 20, in the Denny attack. Superior Court Judge John Ouderkirk ordered jurors to resume deliberations on that charge and a robbery charge against Williams and a robbery charge against Watson.

About half the jurors told Ouderkirk they thought the panel could reach a verdict on the deadlocked counts if they continued to deliberate.

Williams was convicted of simple mayhem in the Denny beating, meaning he could face between two and eight years in state prison. He had been charged with the more serious crime of aggravated mayhem, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

In the attacks on the other seven people, Williams was found guilty of four counts of misdemeanor assault, which each carries a six-month jail sentence. Williams was acquitted of assault with a deadly weapon on two Los Angeles firefighters whose car was hit by an ax as it responded to a riot call.

Williams smiled broadly and hugged his attorney, Edi Faal, after the acquittal on the aggravated mayhem charge. Family members and friends cried quietly and embraced each other.

Don Jackson, spokesman for the Williams family, said he was very pleased with the results of the verdicts.

'We are confident that any further action...will eliminate any further spector of guilt,' Jackson said. 'We are elated.'

Prosecutors and defense attorneys refused to comment on the verdicts, saying they wouldn't discuss the case while jurors were still deliberating.

Police were on a modified tactical alert for the verdicts, but there were no reports of any incidents.

The Justice Department said it has not decided yet whether to pursue civil rights charges against Williams and Watson.

The jury, which has been sequestered at a hotel, had been deliberating since Oct. 1. The verdicts came after a variety of twists and turns in the case, including the dismissal of five jurors for illness, personal reasons or incompetence.

Jurors had said Saturday they had reached some verdicts, but were hopelessly deadlocked on six counts. They reached verdicts on three of those counts, however, during an hour of deliberations Monday.

Williams and Watson were accused in the racially charged trial of beating Denny nearly to death at the South Los Angeles corner of Florence and Normandie avenues during the early hours of the Los Angeles riots. The April 29, 1992, attack on Denny and the other victims was captured on several video cameras.

The Los Angeles riots broke out after four white police officers were acquitted on most charges in the March 1991 beating of Rodney King, a black motorist.

During the trial, prosecutors said Williams and Watson were clearly seen on videotape beating the white trucker, but defense attorneys claimed it was a case of misidentification and that the defendants were being made scapegoats for the riots.

The trial began Aug. 19, almost 1 years after Williams and Watson were arrested in pre-dawn raids by local and federal officials. Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, who has since retired, personally appeared at the arrest Williams.

Many black activists, including Free The LA-4+, claimed Williams and Watson were charged with harsher crimes than the police officers accused of beating King because the Denny defendants were black.

Denny, the most publicized victim of the riots, testified Aug. 25 that he could not remember an angry mob pulling him from his gravel truck, kicking and beating him or being struck in the head with a hammer and a brick.

Denny was hospitalized for 33 days with a compound skull fracture, almost 100 broken bones and other injuries. Doctors said he was only moments from death before being rescued by four black good Samaritans.

Denny said he held no anger toward his attackers and hugged the defendants' parents following his testimony.

On Monday he told 'Inside Edition,' 'I was relieved. They should let (Watson) go. He spent a year-and-a-half in jail and has had time to think what happened. I am in total agreement (with the verdicts).'

The two defendants did not testify in their own defense.

Two other men were arrested with Williams and Watson May 12, 1992, nearly two weeks after the riots.

Antoine Miller -- a 22-year-old black man who is charged with four counts related to the attack on Denny plus 16 other charges for alleged attacks on seven other victims -- will be tried separately, with a Nov. 9 pretrial hearing scheduled.

Gary Williams, 34, was sentenced in March to three years in state prison for robbing Denny.

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