Sunday, January 07, 2007

Lawyers argue for hate charge dismissals

Long Beach Press Telegram
Article Launched:01/02/2007 11:01:54 PM PST

LONG BEACH - Despite passionate and sometimes lengthy arguments, six defense attorneys on Tuesday lost a round of motions to dismiss assault charges and hate-crime allegations against their clients - all of them black youths accused of attacking three white women on Halloween night.

The motions came at the start of the defense case in a Long Beach Superior Court adjudication hearing that could end in all 10 accused juveniles, some of them college-bound athletes, being sent into confinement for months or years.

The juveniles, nine girls and one boy who ranged in age from 12 to 17 at the time, allegedly took part in a mob beating that left three young women badly beaten on Linden Avenue in Bixby Knolls.

In presenting their motions to Judge Gibson Lee, defense attorneys argued primarily for their individual clients, pointing out weaknesses in witnesses' testimony and criticizing how the police set up identification lineups on the night of the incident. But several of them also joined together to address the hate-crime allegations, which affects all 10 juveniles.

According to prosecutors, the mob beating involved some 25 to 30 people and began after two people in the crowd yelled racial epithets, including "I hate f----ing white people."

Jack Fuller, the first to make a motion, argued that the prosecution was attempting to prove guilt by association and holding a number of people accountable for someone else's intent.

According to the law governing hate crimes, he said, race must be a substantial factor in the crime. And, he said, there's no evidence that any of the people involved in the attack heard those racially charged words - "much less joined in them."

Other attorneys agreed, saying that the actual assault could not possibly be attached to the words of one or two people in a crowd, both of whom are still at large. And, attorney Frank Williams argued, a lack of any other obvious motive does not prove that the motive was hate.

But Deputy District Attorney Andrea Bouas argued the racial epithets were "the battle cry" that incited the incident - throwing small pumpkins, lemons and other objects at the women - which then escalated into serious violence.

"It defies logic to say that just because I acted doesn't mean that I should have any hateful intent," she said, adding that the words and the actions were married together. "It was not serendipitous."

Several attorneys seized on the limited amount of evidence that exists against each of their clients. In several cases, a witness who testified early in the adjudication hearing was the only person to tie the juveniles to the crime, using primarily clothing, jewelry and hair styles to make the identifications.

Some youths were also found in a red car with the cell phone of one of the victims inside the vehicle.

"It is not a crime to be a passenger in a red car on Halloween night," said attorney Marc Rothenberg, adding that, if the prosecution is correct, there are another 20 people who participated in the beating still at large.

Bouas said that was irrelevant.

"We aren't concerned about the people that we don't have," she said. "We are concerned about the people that we do have. And the people who we do have (were found with) the victim's cell phone in their car."

Other attorneys pointed out the chaotic nature of the event, questioned police tactics and said they found it impossible to believe that a court could uphold a criminal petition based on the facts presented by the prosecution during the month-long hearing.

The beating has already brought so much tragedy to the victims, their families and the community, Rothenberg said.

"I'm asking the court not to make it a judicial tragedy," he said.

The arguments made by defense attorneys Tuesday seemed especially passionate and lengthy when compared to Judge Lee's quick rulings in each, denying the motion one by one and moving on to the next. At one point, after Lee had denied the fourth motion without comment, family members sitting in the audience let out an audible groan and shook their heads.

Motions from the remaining four attorneys are expected to be decided when the hearing resumes today at 1 p.m.

Source: PressTelegram

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