Joe Mozingo, LA Times, Dec. 8, 2006
A judge in the Long Beach hate crime trial has issued an unusual order allowing witnesses and victims to testify anonymously and barring defense attorneys from disclosing their names.
Legal experts say the move is extraordinary, though not necessarily unprecedented.
“I’ve never heard of that,” said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson. “To the extent that it’s ever happened, I would expect it would have been in a Mafia trial.”
Judge Gibson Lee issued the order Wednesday during a closed session with attorneys after a key witness for the prosecution, Kiana Alford, learned that her car had been smashed in front of her home while she was in court testifying.
Levenson said witness intimidation is common, particularly in cases involving gangs, drugs, domestic violence and organized crime, but is usually dealt with in other ways. “The ordinary way to address it is to provide [police] protection of the witness,” she said. Alford has been coming to court with a police escort.
Lee said the defendants and their lawyers will be advised of the witnesses’ names, but ordered to keep them secret. The attorneys said they plan to argue today that the order violates their clients’ constitutional right to confront their accusers.
Ten black juveniles — nine girls and a boy — are charged with beating three white women on Halloween night while shouting derogatory comments about their race. Alford, who is black, spent five days on the witness stand describing the attacks.
Police say witnesses saw three or four gang members back their vehicle into Alford’s with such force that it was totaled. At the closed hearing, Deputy Dist. Atty. Andrea Bouas blamed the incident on defense attorneys who had elicited a vague description of the car from Alford during her testimony, they said. Bouas has not commented on the case outside of court.
Alford originally testified under the name Jane Doe. When the defense requested that she identify herself in open court, Bouas argued, “The witness has concern about her safety and the safety of her 1-year-old child.” Lee granted the defense’s request.
But after the car incident, Lee ordered that the names of Alford and other witnesses be withheld in the future.
Prosecutors say that a crowd of up to 30 black youths — gathered on a street of well-to-do residents known for their Halloween festivities — attacked the three victims, ages 21, 19 and 19, because they were white. The women were stomped, punched, struck with a skateboard and beaten to the ground. The 21-year-old suffered multiple fractures to her face, her attorney said.
The defendants’ families, meanwhile, say their children were not involved in the beatings and have been unfairly swept up in the hysteria. The nine girls and one boy have been held in Juvenile Hall since Halloween, and come to court shackled together.
None have gang affiliations or criminal records, the attorneys said, adding that they have strong families who are mortified by the charges. One girl is in state college on a track scholarship, and several others are high school track stars, including a girl who represented the United States at an event in China this summer.
All 10, ages 12 to 17, face three felony counts of assault with intent to cause great bodily harm. Eight face hate crime enhancements.