Two Beating Victims Might Not Testify

Joe Mozingo, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 14, 2006

The prosecutor in the trial of 10 black youths accused of beating three white women in Long Beach on Halloween night said Wednesday that she would rest her case this week without calling two of the victims to the stand.

The move could mean the prosecution of the nine girls and one boy will stand largely on the testimony of two people: victim Loren Hyman, who identified only four of the juveniles now on trial as her assailants, and a witness who conceded she could not make out individuals during the incident.

According to police reports obtained by The Times, one of the victims who has not taken the stand, Laura Schneider, 19, identified three of the defendants as among her attackers.”She could be the one that punched me,” Schneider told Long Beach Police Officer Mark A. Mesun in his report. About another: “I think she punched me in the face.”

The third victim, Michelle Smith, 19, did not identify anyone.

In the police reports, the minor defendants said they were bystanders and the real assailants were a group of boys wearing black-hooded sweatshirts. Smith’s statement partially bolstered this account.

“Victim Hyman looked like she was holding her own with the females she was fighting. Some of the males jumped in and hit and kicked her, causing the severe injuries,” Det. Victor Feria wrote in his Nov. 1 report, recounting Smith’s statement. “One male suspect took his skateboard in his hands and struck victim Schneider in the back of the head, knocking her to the ground.”

The minors were arrested within hours of the attack and have been charged with assault with intent to cause great bodily harm. Eight face a hate crime enhancement. Two other boys were arrested within a week of the attack and face trial in January.

The three victims were trick-or-treating in the Bixby Knolls area, where residents put up elaborate displays and haunted houses that draw hundreds of people.

About 9 p.m., the three women were walking away from a haunted house when a few teenage boys began taunting them. Hyman, 21, testified that she and her friends tried to retreat as the crowd yelled racial slurs and threw pumpkins and lemons at the women.

As they walked up Linden Avenue, they were mobbed by up to 20 people and brutally beaten to the ground, she said. Hyman suffered 12 facial fractures.

{snip}

The 10 defendants were seen leaving the area in two cars, and the vehicles’ descriptions were relayed to police.

Within 20 minutes of the attack, the juveniles—ages 12 to 17—were spotted in a Ralphs supermarket parking lot less than a mile away, and detained. Hyman’s cellphone was found in one of the cars, according to testimony.

Police took the three victims and a witness to the parking lot, where, one by one, the minors were told to step into the headlights so the victims and witness could say whether each was involved and, if so, how.

Hyman testified that she identified four of the minors that night as having attacked her, and another who yelled at her.

The witness, Kiana Alford, 18, identified eight of the juveniles and described how they took part in the beating. But on the stand, under a cross-examination, she admitted that it was too dark, and she was too far away, to see who did what during the fight.

Police arrested all 10 minors that night. They have been in custody ever since. The Times generally does not identify minor defendants unless they are charged as an adult.

{snip}

At the haunted house, the defendants said they saw the boys yelling sexual taunts and racial slurs at the three white women as they approached.

The fight began when one of the boys kicked Hyman in the back of the leg as she walked across the crowded street. Hyman turned around and punched one of the minor girls in the face, thinking she was the assailant, according to the minors’ statements. With that, the boys mobbed the women.

Smith’s statement to police partially supported this account.

“One person kicked victim Hyman in the back of the leg,” Feria wrote in his report, summarizing Smith’s statement. “Victim Hyman slapped in the face one female that was closest to her, probably thinking that she was the one that hit her. This brought everyone in the group to start hitting, punching and kicking the three victims.”

The most difficult piece of evidence for the defense is Hyman’s cellphone.

The juveniles told police that several of them had lost cellphones in the melee. Once they were in the car, and a bystander had broken up the mob, one of the juveniles, a 13-year-old girl, went out to retrieve the phones. She said she picked up three phones she found, realizing only as they were driving away that one was not theirs.

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