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L.A. Police Trial Underway With No Cameras Allowed

While nation focuses on Rodney King case, reporters say the public is missing subtleties - a reporter's notebook

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AFTER seven trips through two metal detectors - having to twice remove my watch, ring, belt, and shoes (x-rays finally showed paper-thin, metal arch supports) - I stepped quietly into the most closely followed trial in America.

"Extra security for Rodney King?" I whispered to a burly federal marshal. Four hours earlier the entire building next door had been evacuated for what turned out to be something the size of a firecracker. The marshal's steely glare answered my query.

Dumb question.

The eighth-floor federal courtroom is absolutely hushed, darkened with walnut walls, and tiny - 80 seats, tops.

In the front of just four rows of spectator seats sit the four accused Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers, wearing here-we-go-again looks as they face federal civil rights charges in the beating of Rodney King. The trial started Feb. 25.

Presiding Judge John Davies has been lambasted in the local press for feeding the black community's suspicions by choosing this small courtroom, with only 15 seats open to the public.

The previous state trial in nearby Simi Valley, in which the four officers were acquitted on criminal charges, was televised. Now, even with the entire US judicial system on trial by many accounts, not so much as a tape recorder is allowed inside this building because it is a federal trial.

Broadcast news organizations are having to chase principal participants through a nearby parking garage or to station staff members with microphones in a central courtyard to be ready for those exiting.

To get live pictures to accompany their nightly news reports, TV stations are having to settle for talking heads of the defense attorneys, who willingly step forward at each break. Since prosecutors are not speaking to the news media, national and local coverage gets skewed to favor the defense, several media analysts have said.

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