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Appeals Court Approves Use of Taped Testimony in King Trial

By Jim Newton
Los Angeles Times


A federal appellate court rejected an emergency appeal Monday brought by four police officers charged with violating Rodney G. King's civil rights, clearing away a major obstacle preventing jurors from seeing videotaped state court testimony given last year by Officer Theodore J. Briseno.

But before prosecutors had a chance to play the tape for the jury, a second legal tussle erupted that could block admission of large portions of Briseno's testimony. That issue involves Briseno's access to internal affairs statements made by his co-defendants.

During last year's state trial of the officers, Briseno was the only defendant to break ranks and testify against the others.

The extraordinary, 11th-hour legal battle over his videotaped testimony reflects the intense importance that both sides place on it. Prosecutors have called it "critical evidence," and attorneys for the officers concede that it contains statements that could badly hurt at least two of the defendants, Officer Laurence M. Powell and Sgt. Stacey C. Koon.

During the state case, Briseno told jurors that Powell had appeared to strike King in the head several times and that King was not resisting throughout much of the beating. Koon was the only officer to testify in the federal trial and Briseno's account contradicts the sergeant's on several points.

Koon is charged with allowing officers under his supervision to administer an unreasonable beating. The other defendants -- Briseno, Powell, and Timothy E. Wind -- are accused of kicking, stomping and beating King with batons, depriving him of his right to be safe from the intentional use of unreasonable force. All four men face up to ten years in prison and fines of as much as $250,000 each if convicted.

The videotape testimony is the last major piece of evidence that either side is expecting to present in the case. U.S. District Judge John G. Davies predicted that the case would go to the jury this weekend, and he told lawyers that he would hold court Saturday if that time is needed to conclude closing arguments and instruct the jury.

Davies also said he hoped jurors would deliberate Easter Sunday if they have the case by then.