Justice Demands Acquittal in Long Beach Hate Trial
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Here's some intriguing what ifs. What if a prosecutor tried to get a conviction in a major felony assault case based largely on testimony from a witness that was not present at the time of the attack? And later identified the defendant in a line-up in a dimly lit parking lot based solely on the clothes the defendant wore. And what if no other witness saw the defendant attack the victim even though the attack took place in the presence of a large crowd?
What if during courtroom testimony the witness could not positively identify the defendant? What if the victim also gave conflicting, confused, and contradictory statements about the attack? What if there was no solid blood, DNA, or other physical evidence to link the defendant to the attack? What if in a 911 emergency help call to police to report the attack, the attacker was identified as someone of another gender? What if the defendant was grilled without counsel being present?
Indeed, not even being told that counsel was needed. And then held without bail being set. And finally what if the prosecutor claimed that the defendant who is black attacked the victim because he hated whites? And then nailed on an added hate crime charge, even though the only remote connection with hate was a stray racial slur allegedly made by an unidentified person in the crowd.
The firm legal standard for a racially motivated hate crime is that there must be proven intent, racial animus, and a direct racial incitement to violence on the part of the actual defendant. In this type of pitifully weak case, the defendant's attorney would quickly move for a dismissal, and the judge based on the flimsiness of the evidence would grant dismissal.
If the judge didn't dismiss and the case went to the jury, the standard of proof in a criminal case is that the prosecution must prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt in judging guilt or innocence. That certainly wasn't the case here. The jury would quickly vote to acquit.
But this is not a hypothetical case.
This wafer thin prosecution case played out for two months in the Long Beach hate crime trial in which nine black teen girls and one boy are charged with a racially motivated hate crime against three adult white women in Long Beach, California last Halloween night.
The case drew national attention when the teens were charged with a hate crime. It raised the tormenting issues of racial divisions, racial violence, what is or isn't a racial hate crime, and a redefinition of what's legally permissible or not in a hate crimes case involving juveniles.
The facts in the Long Beach trial were much disputed from the start. Prosecutors say that on Halloween night the teens viciously harassed, beat, and kicked three white women. Someone in the crowd allegedly hurled racial taunts and insults at them before and during the assault, and that included screams of, "I Hate whites."
This is what made the case a racial case, and why prosecutors slapped the youth with an added hate crimes enhancement count, and kept them locked up since the night of the attack and repeatedly denied every motion to release them from juvenile jail.
The hate charge carries an additional year in jail if the youth are convicted. Defense attorneys say that the teens did not assault the women, and that they were singled out solely because they were black, happened to be in the area at the time, and were convenient and accessible targets.
The teens have no prior records, and come from solid middle class and working class homes. Are the teens the victims of malicious prosecutors or a mindless pack of violence prone teens?
Prosecutors and defense attorneys spent the two months battling each other to answer that question. Now that the trial is nearing its end, it's clear, prosecutors failed miserably in their effort to answer that question.
By any standard it's not even a good circumstantial case. The most compelling fact that screamed for the case to be dumped was that in the initial 911 call the attackers were clearly identified as 8 to 10 black male teens. They fled the scene and there is no indication that police or prosecutors made much of an attempt to apprehend them.
Yet, despite countless defense motions to have the charges dropped against the defendants, the judge, and only the judge since juveniles are not entitled to a jury trial, will determine guilt or innocence. The issues of racial hate and justice were pitted against each other in a Long Beach courtroom.
In the end the prosecutors came nowhere close to proving there was a racial hate attack that fateful night. In this instance, justice must win out. It demands that the teens be acquitted.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and social issues commentator, and the author of the book, The Emerging Black GOP Majority (Middle Passage Press, September 2006), a hard-hitting look at Bush and the GOP's court of black voters.