Defense rests in Denny trial

By LISA TAYLOR   |   Sept. 23, 1993

LOS ANGELES -- The defense rested Thursday without calling either of the two men on trial for trying to kill trucker Reginald Denny and attacks on seven other people in the early hours of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

The defense finished its case with the testimony of its seventh witness, a professor of psychiatry and sociology at UCLA, an expert on mob violence.


Dr. Armando Morales defined the 'contagion theory' as a situation where 'moods, attitudes, and behavior are communicated (among participants) rapidly in an impulsive and thoughtless manner.'

'There is something very contagious that goes on in these particular mobs or crowds...and something triggers them to behave in these unpredictable, impulsive ways,' Morales said.

Under a ruling by Superior Court Judge John Ouderkirk, Morales was not allowed to relate the theory to the Los Angeles riots that began April 29, 1992.

He also could not comment on the possible reasons for the attacks on Denny or any people, allegedly by defendants Damian Williams, 20, and Henry Keith Watson, 29.

The jury will decide if group contagion reduces the defendants' responsibility for their actions.

A prosecution rebuttal witness, Dr. Lewis Yablonsky, professor of sociology at California State University, Northridge, said: 'The contagion theory is not widely accepted...not considered relevant to contemporary society,' because it 'doesn't account for individual behavior.'

Defense attorney Edi Faal said outside the courtroom he was satisfied.

'We feel that we've done very well. We came to court not to prove anything, but to raise questions as to whether there is reasonable doubt as to who that individual is and the intent of that individual,' he said, referring to the various riot videotapes showing the man the prosecution says is Williams.

'I believe there is reasonable doubt as to who that individual is, and I believe there is reasonable doubt as to whether anyone attempted to kill Mr. Denny, or to permanently disfigure Mr. Denny,' he said.

If convicted of attempted murder or mayhem against the white trucker and the assaults on seven other people, Williams and Watson, both black, would face life in prison.

Prosecutor Janet Moore disagreed with Faal.

'We don't believe there is any reasonable doubt that these two young men are in fact guilty of the crimes as charged, but of course the jurors are the ultimate arbiters of the facts, and they will be the ones to come up with the ultimate decision,' Moore said.

Closing arguments were expected to start Monday in a trial being widely watched because of its potential for touching off more violence.

The deadly Los Angeles riots began the evening a suburban jury essentially acquitted four white cops in the beating of black motorist Rodney King, and many in the black community have been comparing the two cases.NEWLN: ccccqqe