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Denny Trial Splits Opinion Across Racial Lines in L.A.

By Daniel B. Wood reports from Los Angeles. / October 28, 1993



SIXTY-TWO percent of Los Angeles disagrees with the verdicts handed down in the Reginald Denny beating trial, a Los Angeles Times poll has found. Fifty-one percent of respondents also said the trial, which ended here last week, made them less confident in the criminal-justice system.

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Sixty-one percent are optimistic, however, that the city will be able to make progress toward healing itself in the months to come. And the level of anger generated by the Denny trial appears to be substantially lower than the first Rodney King trial in which acquittals of four white police officers led to the riots in the city: Whereas 73 percent of residents said they were angered by the King verdicts, just 41 percent were angered at the Denny decisions.

But the jury's decision to acquit Damian Williams and Henry Watson on most charges in the beating of trucker Denny has produced greater division of opinion across racial lines and within racial groups than the King trial did.

In that earlier case, held in Simi Valley, not-guilty verdicts for four Los Angeles Police Department officers produced overwhelming opposition. In the Denny case, blacks agreed with the verdicts by a slight majority - 51 percent to 38 percent. Seventy-two percent of whites disagreed with the verdicts as did 66 percent of Latinos. Significant numbers of each racial group also dissented from the majority: Two in five blacks, for instance, expressed unhappinness with the verdicts.

Despite misgivings with the Denny verdicts, 54 percent of residents said they do not favor retrials or bringing civil rights charges against Mr. Williams and Mr. Watson. The poll was conducted among 1,279 adult residents by telephone, Oct. 22-24.

Meanwhile, the forewoman of the jury has stated that fear of another riot played no role in the minds of jurors.

``There has been a lot of expressed anger, shock, disbelief, and speculation regarding the verdicts, said the forewoman at a press conference Sunday, reading a statement on behalf of all 12 jurors. ``The verdicts were decided according to the law, not through intimidation, fear, or another riot, nor were the verdicts based on black vs. white.''