Tape Played Two Ways in Denny Case Video Put Defendants at Scene but Failed to Show Key-Intent

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IN THE END, the powerful videotape of the violence at a flash point of the 1992 Los Angeles riots - the most compelling evidence of the case against two men charged in the Reginald Denny beating - was a sword that cut both ways.

The often-intimate account of the chaos and brutality gave the jury a multifaceted view of the attack that established the identities of defendants Henry Keith Watson and Damian Monroe Williams.

But the tape was far less compelling in addressing a critical issue about the most serious charges against the defendants - their state of mind as they participated in the attack on Denny and other attacks. Denny was beaten on the first day of the riots that erupted April 29, 1992, after the acquittals in the first Rodney King beating trial.

Williams was charged with 10 counts involving Denny and six other victims. Watson was charged with five counts involving Denny and two others.

Did the defendants premeditate to murder trucker Denny? Did Williams intend to leave Denny permanently disfigured? Did Watson plan to help others rob another trucker, Larry Tarvin?

Although the jury continues deliberations on two charges, including attempted murder, the pattern of its decisions was made clear in the 13 verdicts released Monday.

In charge after charge, the jury either came back with an acquittal or was unable to resolve a count that required a glimpse into the thoughts of the perpetrators and their specific intent.

"The prosecution lost heavily on intent," said Robert Pugsley, a professor at Southwestern University Law School. "Either the jury didn't grasp the theory, or they did not see enough there."

From the beginning of the trial, one of the cornerstones of the prosecution's case was showing that even if the defendants were not directly involved in committing a crime, they were still liable as "aiders and abettors" to those who did.

The charges related to aiding and abetting, which included assault with deadly weapon and robbery, also required showing that Watson and Williams had specific awareness of the intent of the actual perpetrators.

Again, the jury was either unable or unwilling to convict the defendants, even though the defendants were present during some of the attacks.

"I think this is a substantial defeat for the prosecution and a substantial victory for the defense," said Erwin Chemerinsky, a University of Southern California law professor.

The conviction of Watson and Williams on lesser charges bolstered arguments by the defense that their clients had been overcharged from the beginning as part of an effort by prosecutors to make Watson and Williams scapegoats for the riots, which became the costliest in U.S. history.

One of the most controversial charges - the attempted murder of Denny - seems more plausible given the jury's deadlock on the issue, says Laurie L. Levenson, a law professor at Loyola University. …