A judge has found that eight black teenagers beat three white women in Long Beach, California out of racial hatred
Judge Gibson Lee upheld nearly all of the prosecution's counts in a case that roiled this diverse city with its core allegation: that nine girls and a boy visited a well-to-do part of Long Beach on Halloween night and beat three women to the ground because they were white.
Lee threw out the case against the youngest defendant, a girl who turned 12 the night before the attack. The testimony linking her to the crime was a single statement that she was "throwing newspapers around at the girls." Another was convicted of the assault but not of a hate crime.
On the courthouse steps, Deputy Dist. Atty. Brian Schirn, who supervised the case, said the victory was not something to cheer about.
"Today is not a happy day," he said. "The victims still have to undergo physical, emotional treatment…. I feel sorry for everybody. There are no winners."
Defense attorney Frank Williams Jr. said he was "perplexed" by Lee's ruling. The defense lawyers and the youths' families contend that authorities prosecuted the wrong people in a rush to resolve the highly charged case.
"I thought the judge would make a much more reasoned decision about my client, who was not identified by any of the victims," he said.
Those convicted were eight females — a 13-year-old, two 14-year-olds, two 16-year-olds, a 17-year-old and two 18-year-olds — and an 18-year-old male. The oldest defendants were tried as juveniles because they were 17 when the crimes occurred.
Handcuffed to their chairs, the defendants broke down as Lee read the rulings. Nine were convicted of felony assault, eight with a hate-crime enhancement. For four of the nine, the conviction will count as a first strike under California's three-strikes law, which mandates a life term for a third felony conviction if the first two were for "serious" or "violent" felonies.
One girl cradled another's head. A 13-year-old girl buried her face in her gray Juvenile Hall sweat shirt and sobbed. Their parents' mouths hung open in disbelief.
"His mind was made up," said the mother of a 16-year-old girl, who will have a strike. "The judge was under pressure. He took the way out that makes him look good. He took the cowardly way."
The three victims — Loren Hyman, 21; Laura Schneider, 19; and Michelle Smith, 19 — sat together in the front row, showing no emotion at the verdicts. Concerned about their security, they later went to "safe places" for the weekend without making public comment, said Doug Otto, their civil attorney.
"They're gratified that their version of what occurred seems to be vindicated by the court's decision," Otto said. "They feel that justice is beginning to be done in this case."
Otto said all three women felt victimized again by some of the comments that defendants' supporters made during the contentious trial. "There's not a scintilla of evidence that they provoked these things," he said.
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